ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Carolina Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice held Eric Staal out of the second half of Monday's exhibition game at Ice Palace for his own safety and the well being of his young team.
Outside of a half-inch bloody gash on his nose, Staal was not injured despite repeatedly being targeted by the SKA St. Petersburg players throughout the first period and into the first 10 minutes of the second. He did not return to the bench for the third period as Carolina fell to the KHL club, 5-3, in the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere Challenge game.
"It seemed like they were getting closer and closer to his knees and there wasn't a big concern on the ice about it," Maurice said. "He's a National Hockey League star player and he should be playing against National Hockey League players."
Staal said his knees were specifically targeted twice by SKA players, and after the second time Maurice said enough.
It was 6:34 into the second period when Maxim Rybin dove at Staal's knees. Carolina defenseman Jay Harrison jumped in to defend Staal and picked up a two-minute minor for roughing with Rybin. Prior to the ensuing faceoff, Tim Gleason dropped the gloves with Alexei Petrov and picked up a five-minute major and a game misconduct.
Staal had one of those "uh-oh" moments when Rybin dove at his knees.
"I'm fine taking a hit and I can take a hit. I'm a big guy," Staal told NHL.com. "But, when you get a small guy who is planted and I am coming with speed, I have him beat and he takes a lunge at my knees, there's a chance of … you never know. You can tear an ACL or MCL. I wasn't very happy with that play and I let him know that. And, that was pretty much the end of me for the night."
He didn't want it to be.
"I wanted to play. I wanted to go back on the ice badly," Staal said. "I wanted to score a few and fist pump down the ice, but it's not my decision sometimes."
In hindsight, Staal understood the decision Maurice had to make.
"There were some lower hits, some questionable plays that I didn't like personally and I don't think our management, coaches or the rest of our guys liked much either," he said. "But, I think they had a lot riding on the game and that's sometimes the way it goes."
Maurice was clearly ticked at how the SKA players treated his biggest star, but really how the home team treated the game as a whole.
The Canes were whistled for 12 penalties, including three majors and a game misconduct, yet Maurice praised their discipline because he knows by the way things were going, the game could have gotten completely out of control and really turned into a filth fest.
"I thought we played a very disciplined game," Maurice said. "It could have gotten to 30 or 40 (penalties) and I would have been fine with that."
As mad as Maurice was, Staal's teammates showed similar displeasure. They came to their captain's defense on multiple occasions, which Erik Cole believes could be the best thing to come out of Monday's game.
"Tonight was one of those games where you saw a lot of guys sticking up for one another, team unity," Cole told NHL.com. "That's good to see because we're going to need that."
Maurice loved what Gleason did in defense of Staal.
"You can argue if you like fighting or not, but when you've got guys coming awful close to players knees with no repercussions, if you don't sort it out that way then there is going to be a lot of stick work and a lot of garbage," Maurice said.
Cole wasn't sure if Staal was a target, "but he's our best player." He also agreed with Maurice's decision to keep Staal off the ice after things got real chippy in the second period.
"The important day for us is Thursday, not tonight," Cole said. "Our games start counting on Thursday."
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