Few people on the planet just experienced a bigger week than Eric Staal
did as a host player and captain during All-Star weekend. His play leading into the festivities wasn’t bad either.
On Tuesday morning, hours before the Canes resume their season schedule at home against the Boston Bruins, the NHL named Staal its First Star of the Week for the period ending Jan. 30. The Hurricanes’ captain scored 4 points (2g, 2a) in the abbreviated two-game schedule prior to the league’s five-day pause, and also found the back of the net twice in Sunday’s All-Star Game, although that did not directly factor into the award.
After recording an assist in Monday’s match-up with Toronto, Staal posted 3 points Wednesday against the New York Islanders, including 2 goals in a span of 1:28 in the second period.
“It’s an honor for sure,” said Staal, who has had his share of those recently. “Hopefully I can get another first star this week, because it’s a big week for us.”
Staal seems to win at least one weekly or monthly award each year, as he’s capable of putting together a big stretch at any time. He’s already taken home third-star honors this season, having scored 5 point in three games for the week ending Dec. 19.
However, the current campaign differs in that it’s his most consistent in years, with his scoring totals reflecting that. His 52 points are the most he’s had through his first 50 contests since his career 2005-06 season, and his 25 goals are his most since 2007-08. He has points in 12 of his last 14 games, including an eight-game streak, with a four-game drought to begin December easily his longest of the season.
“He’s been just solid all year long,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice. “He’s been a good leader and a good player, and he’s had his bouts where we’ve run him a lot of big minutes and he’s responded. It was a tough month for him (in January) playing every second day with a back-to-back in there, and he was consistent.”
Staal, his fellow All-Star participants and his teammates who skipped town for a few days will now have to flip the proverbial switch to get back into game mode, as they will again have a chance to overtake the Atlanta Thrashers tonight for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot. The Thrashers, who are a point ahead of the Hurricanes with two more games played, host the Islanders tonight.
“It’s all just part of being a professional,” said defenseman Jamie McBain, who was one of 12 rookies to participate in Saturday’s SuperSkills competition. “We realize that the weekend is over and we have a good chance to get into playoff position.”
No relationship will change more than the one between Staal and Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara – a match-up that the Bruins like to use whenever possible. At the podium during Friday’s fantasy draft, Staal said that he chose Chara specifically so that he wouldn’t have to face him during Sunday's All-Star Game.
”I said, ‘I look forward to seeing you Tuesday, I hope I don’t run into you too many times,’” said Staal of his postgame parting words to Chara. “That will be unlikely.”
Tonight, the Hurricanes will be looking to split their season series with the Bruins and stop a two-game losing skid in the head-to-head match-up that included Jekyll-and-Hyde 7-0 and 3-2 setbacks in mid-January.
“I thought we played our best game here (on Jan. 18) and didn’t come out with the win,” said Maurice. “I think we deserved to win that game, but played possibly our worst game of the season in Boston (on Jan. 17).”