NEWARK, N.J. -- Carolina Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice couldn't really put a finger on the reason captain Eric Staal has struggled so mightily to open the 2011-12 season.
"There is no explanation for it, or else we would have dealt with it," Maurice told the media following his team's practice at Prudential Center on Tuesday. "He's just trying to find chemistry with other people and he has taken that pressure of his offensive game completely to heart.
"I don't think it's the breakout game that will ultimately send him on his way, either. Eric competes as hard as he can away from the puck, and he'll always make sure that part of his game is good. The stats don't always tell you I was right, but his last six minuses had nothing to do with him."
Through 14 games this season, Staal has 3 goals, 5 points and a League-low minus-16 rating. He has been held pointless in five straight games, during which he has a minus-7 rating.
Staal was asked if last year's hit on his brother, Marc, had anything to do with his slow start.
"That has nothing to do with it," he said. "I don't know, I just haven't found a groove offensively yet. I think it's early, I've had a lot of looks and lot of opportunities and chances around the net but just haven't been hitting the back of the net. As far as (the hit) being on my mind going into every game, it's not even close. Hopefully I can stay with it, get things turned around and help us win some games."
Despite his offensive woes, forward Jeff Skinner still sees the relentless determination each and every practice.
"Every player goes through tough times, scoring droughts and slumps, and you can't really judge a player based on that," Skinner said. "Especially a guy like Eric, who dominates games and does so much more than put points on the board. He logs huge minutes (20:02 of ice time per game) against other team's top line and top defensive pair. He wins big faceoffs on the penalty kill and blocks shots and he's physical. He still brings all those things to the game, even though he's in sort of little slump. But that's what makes him a good leader."
Said Maurice: "Eric doesn't play a perimeter game and he pushed his offensive game to places he had a hard time recovering from early on this season … but he hasn't done that the last five or six games."