After a week in which he racked up nine points in just three games, Eric Staal
won the NHL’s first star of the week award on Monday.
The award was won on the strength of his career-high six-point performance Saturday night in Tampa Bay, in which he also scored a career-high four goals in a season-low 13:55 of ice time. Both of those marks also tie the Hartford/Carolina franchise records.
“As a group, we’re feeling pretty comfortable and confident,” said Staal, whose team has won seven if its last nine games. “Obviously Erik Cole and Tuomo Ruutu are two guys who are big and strong and can skate and hit, and the game has really kind of opened up in the last few. The chances we’ve had, we’ve really cashed in and that’s the difference.”
While Staal is undoubtedly on the best offensive stretch of his season (he has 12 points in his last five games overall), coach Paul Maurice said there have been periods where Staal may have been even stronger but didn’t get the same recognition without the gaudy numbers.
“It’s by points, but he has played other stretches where I thought he was more dominant,” he said. “It’s great to see him score goals and it’s fun for him obviously and fun for us when we win like that. Maybe I appreciate the Buffalo games where I thought he was really good, and in some of those big games where I thought, ‘Wow, this guy is really playing and battling and grinding.’”
Some observers will be quick to point out that the award coincides nicely with the reacquisition of Erik Cole. While Staal had been playing well before that, getting his longtime linemate back has certainly been a factor.
“There’s definitely something there, you can’t deny that,” said Staal. “He’s a great player, he’s got offensive skill and a lot of speed. We play well together, we’ve played together for three years, we’re comfortable and confident in each other’s abilities. If we’re both skating and playing the game that we can play, we’re effective and we’re tough to play against.”
Maurice agreed, saying that Cole’s breakaway speed has opened things up for Staal, as was evident on Staal’s second goal against Tampa Bay on Saturday night.
“Erik Cole has straightaway speed,” said Maurice. “Because of that, most defensemen have to give him ice, and when they do that it opens up Eric in the middle. He’s got a lot to do with the last two games offensively.”