With four points in his last three games, his first three-game scoring streak of the season, there’s no question Eric Staal
is playing his best hockey of the season of late.
In addition to the sound defensive play he’s shown all season (now a team-leading +12), he’s finishing his chances and creating goals through hard work – the best example of which was the turnover he caused in the offensive zone that led to Tuomo Ruutu’s goal in New York.
As to why that’s happening, Paul Maurice hasn’t seen enough of the before to determine why the after is working so well.
“I can tell you what he’s doing right now, but I can’t tell you what he wasn’t doing before,” said Maurice. “Right now, he’s being a complete player for us. He’s trying to do both things, and we don’t have the puck he’s where he’s supposed to be.”
Actually, Maurice has seen the “before” version of Staal, and it was much earlier than most.
“I think at the end of the day it’s just power,” said Maurice. “When I remember him in training camp and early on in (the 2003-04) season, he was almost getting stuff done. He almost beat a guy, he almost got through two guys and he almost beat the goaltender. He was a kid, he was a boy, and he’s a man now.”
Staal isn’t the only big-name forward on the Hurricanes who has begun to flourish under Maurice. Ray Whitney has six points in Maurice’s five games, which reversed a streak of zero points in his previous five. Rod Brind’Amour was also scoreless in his last five prior to the coaching change, but now has four points with Maurice at the helm.
“Yeah, probably,” said Staal. “You get the confidence going some nights and you just try to do your best every game. It doesn’t matter who’s coaching. For me, it was just about getting the confidence in myself and my abilities and making sure I was getting the work ethic, and eventually it was going to come.”
Injury updates - Frank Kaberle returned to practice today and wasn’t expected to complete the whole session, but he did just that, looking good in the process. Anton Babchuk did some light skating work afterwards, while Niclas Wallin stayed off the ice entirely.