Why do I get the feeling Eric Staal won’t be going out like a lamb?
Staal’s performance through the first half of March has been positively lion-esque, averaging better than two points per game through seven contests.
Actually, the 23-year-old started to pick things up in mid-February, in a game that’s increasingly starting to look like the flashpoint of Carolina’s season.
It seemed as though the Canes would have their hearts broken during a Valentine’s Day tilt with Pittsburgh when they lost captain Rod Brind’Amour for the season to a torn ACL.
In the seven games leading up to that contest, Staal had exactly zero goals and zero assists. The city of Thunder Bay was actually contemplating changing its sign to say ‘Home of Marc, Jordan and Jared Staal.’
OK, it wasn’t that bad.
But just when it appeared the Carolina was poised to turn over ownership of the division – and the No. 3 seed in the East – to the hard-charging Washington Capitals, Staal stepped up and started playing like the guy who led the 2006 playoffs in scoring as a 21-year-old.
After Brind’Amour hobbled off the ice on Feb. 14, Staal popped a goal and an assist as the Hurricanes topped Pittsburgh 4-2 to reclaim first place in the Southeast.
In all, Staal has seven goals and 25 points in 15 games since Brind’Amour went down and coupled with solid goaltending from another guy who was just about done getting by on the legacy of what he did two years ago, Cam Ward, Staal’s play has helped the Canes go 11-3-1 in the absence of their all-world captain.
Maybe the extra ice time created by Brind’Amour’s absence and the trade of Cory Stillman spurred Staal to get his game in gear.
Maybe he was just sick of people gettin’ dissy with his division. (Admit it, you thought those ‘Southleast’ references were clever for a couple weeks, too.)
Whatever the reason for his resurgence, Staal has definitely distanced himself from black sheep status within the Canes family.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears every second Friday.
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