WASHINGTON -- Eric Staal
will look to match the longest point streak in the NHL this season, as the Carolina Hurricanes
try to keep their slim playoff hopes alive when they visit the Washington Capitals
tonight at Verizon Center.
Staal is on an 11-game point streak (7 goals and 13 assists), one shy of John Tavares
' season-high 12-game point streak set in January.
"Not only has he been going very strong, but he's made guys around him better as well," said coach Kirk Muller
. "Certainly not to take anything away from the other players, but he's really taken this team on his shoulders and played some really good hockey. Playing really well with and without the puck, a really good two-way forward, he takes on a lot of ice time, he's our leader and he's been leading us in the right direction."
The Hurricanes are 5-2-4 during Staal's 11-game point streak, but they remain 10 points behind eighth place Winnipeg as they begin a season-high five-game road trip.
Staal has also tied Dave Keon's 32-year-old franchise record with a 10-game assist streak.
"He's big, he's fast, he has good hands and he generates speed very, very well," said Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner
, who along with defense partner John Carlson
will be among those responsible tonight for limiting Carolina's No. 1 line.
"He uses the other four players on the ice and it turns him into a pretty deadly player. When he comes wide on you, you better time it right, or else you're not going to have a chance to stop him. He's very tough."
Among those that have benefitted from Staal's play of late have been linemates Jiri Tlusty
and Anthony Stewart
. Tlusty has 12 points in 13 games, while Stewart is coming off his first multi-goal game of the season.
"Staal is a top-tier player in the League," Stewart said. "He's always out there making things happen, so when you're out there with him, you're just going to do whatever you can to get him the puck and let him do his thing and hopefully bang a couple of goals in."
Stewart has been given the chance to stick with the top line while Tuomo Ruutu
remains sidelined with an upper-body injury.
"That's kind of our group -- everyone just kind of contributing in different ways," Muller said. "At one time we had five injuries and so guys had to jump into different roles and take on different responsibilities, and I thought the guys really adjusted well.
"Guys have really stepped up, and Stewey is one of them -- he's jumped up, played with Stalsey, he's been producing, skating and playing hard, and that's what we need guys to do."
Playing with Staal and Tlusty is also an opportunity not lost on Stewart.
"I have to make the most of it," he said. "Playing fourth line most of the year, you don't really have a chance to show what you can do -- you just have to keep it as simple as possible. But now with the increased playing time, I can get a little more comfortable and confident, and I'm just trying to contribute any way I can."