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Staal Returns to Practice

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes
Saturday’s morning skate had one more participant than expected, even if he won’t suit up against Tampa Bay.

Paul Branecky
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Eric Staal, who has missed the last eight games with an upper body injury, skated with the team for the first time since having to exit the November 1 game against San Jose. He’s still hoping for a return to the lineup next week, perhaps as early as the team’s upcoming road trip through Dallas and Anaheim.

“I’m working and doing everything I can to make sure that I’m back in the lineup as soon as I can at 100 percent,” said Staal, who had been skating on his own prior to today.

“His stride looks like it’s a lot closer to where he wants it to be,” said Coach Paul Maurice. “He’s not shooting the puck (hard), but that’s by design. He’s not supposed to be out there hammering or one-timing the puck. Sometime in the next 10 days we’re hoping he’s back in the lineup, but that will depend on how he gets through each day.”

When Staal missed the Hurricanes’ November 4 game at Florida, it marked just the second game he’s had to sit out in his six-season career and the end of his 349 games-played streak, which ranked second in franchise history.

Although he now admits to playing through an already-existing injury and eventually making it worse, he also said that it wasn’t the first time.  It probably won't be the last.

“It nagged me for a couple of games and got worse and worse, and then in the San Jose game it just tore and I was done after that,” he said. “I’ve had that many times in my career where maybe one or two games in a row I’m not feeling great but good enough, and then you get to the next couple of games and you’re back to 100 percent. I was hoping for that, but it got to the point where it wasn’t going to get back to 100 percent unless I sat out.”

Watching Hurricanes games in the press box was a relatively new experience for Staal, who had not done so since his rookie season. With the team struggling for most of that time until a recent four-game points streak, that turned out to be more frustrating than he could have imagined.

“It’s tough. It’s no fun watching when you can’t do anything or put forth any effort to help your team,” he said. “Your effort goes into making sure you’re working hard to get back into the lineup, and that’s where I’ve been for the last couple of weeks. I’ve worked hard and it’s been a learning experience, but hopefully I can come back better and help our team win games.”

Joni Pitkanen also took the morning skate and will play tonight barring unforeseen circumstances. Maurice said that goaltender Michael Leighton is recovering nicely from his groin injury and would make the upcoming road trip, while Scott Walker will stay behind with his upper-body injury.

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