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Southeast: There's no stalling Staal

by Robert Picarello

Hurricanes' center Eric Staal is on pace to
surpass the 70 points he put up last season
when he scored 30 goals and 40 assists.

From the opening faceoff of the 2007-08 season there has been no stall in Eric Staal's game. The Carolina Hurricanes forward started off the year red-hot, scoring five goals and four assists in his first five games. And, he has yet to cool down.

Heading into this weekend's action, Staal has points in four straight games (3G, 4A), including an assist in Wednesday night's 4-2 loss to the Panthers.

After 13 games, Staal sits atop the Hurricanes' goal-scoring list with nine goals and his 16 points is the second-best output on the team, trailing Rod Brind’Amour’s 18 points. More impressively, Staal's nine goals were third in the League and his 16 points were seventh overall.

The 23-year-old Staal is well ahead of his pace from last season in the goal-scoring department. Last year, Staal did not get his ninth goal until the 16th game of the season. This season, he managed to pick up his ninth tally in his 12th game.

Even though Staal was productive for the 'Canes last season, his final numbers (30G, 40A) didn't come anywhere near his stats from the 2005-06 season, when he posted 45 goals and 55 assists.

But Staal doesn't like to live in his NHL past.

"It's a new year, it's a new process, and we need to forget about (the previous season) once the puck drops for the new year," he said.

But ask him about his past and growing up in Thunder Bay, Ontario playing hockey with his three brothers, Marc, Jordan and Jared, and Eric can go on for hours. Eric was just 4-years-old when he got his first taste of hockey on the backyard rink built by his father, Henry. Year after year, the boys played against one another on the homemade sheet of ice, never imagining that they would be one day facing off against one another in the NHL.

"We all loved the game and we all loved playing outside," Eric said. "We played roller hockey in the summer and played hockey in the basement downstairs and played hockey in the outdoor rink; we played any chance we could.

"We all love the game and I think we all wanted to play in the NHL. I mean, we all worked hard for it. I don't think growing up, though, we ever imagined that one day we would be sitting here. But (it's) definitely pretty neat now and I think we are all grateful for the opportunity our parents gave us to try to succeed at playing hockey and making it a career."

Eric is the trailblazer in the family, first breaking onto the NHL scene in the 2003-04 season, just a few months after being chosen as the second overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Marc and Jordan followed, also being selected in the first round, Marc by the Rangers with the No. 12 pick in 2005 and Jordan with the second pick by the Penguins in 2006.

The Staals are the first trio of brothers to appear in the NHL in the same season since Kevin Miller (Islanders), Kelly Miller (Washington) and Kip Miller (Pittsburgh) did it in the 1998-99 campaign. In all, 47 families have contributed at least three brothers to NHL rosters.

While Jared is the only Staal sibling who is out in the cold at the moment as far as the NHL is concerned, it shouldn't be long before the fourth Staal family member is on the scene, as the youngster was drafted in the first round (11th overall) of the 2006 OHL Draft by the Sudbury Wolves.

"He's a very gifted offensive player. He's got great hands (and) sees the ice very well," Eric said of his youngest brother. "He worked tremendously hard this summer. He worked out with all three of us. He did the track workouts and he improved so much strength-wise. You know, this year, I think the first couple games he doubled his point total from the year before. So he's excited about that. Right now he's getting a chance to play a little bit more and develop. You know, he's definitely got some talent and hoping he has a good season there in Sudbury and continue his development as a player."

Who’s hot -- Panthers' forward Olli Jokinen has seven points in his last four games off five goals and two assists. The

Florida captain recorded three points in a Halloween night victory against the Carolina Hurricanes, picking up one goal and two assists in the 4-2 win. … Carolina's Cory Stillman has points in six straight games with two goals and seven assists during the hot streak. The left wing also has assists in four straight, posting five assists in those contests. … Washington's Alex Ovechkin has nine points in his last four games off four goals and five assists. … Atlanta's Slava Kozlov has netted three goals in his last four games, including the game-winner against the Blackhawks on Oct. 27 in Chicago. … Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier has tallied three goals and two assists in his last four games, including the Lightning's only goal against the Devils on Wednesday night in a 6-1 loss in New Jersey.

Southeast quotes -- "It's really frustrating. It deflates you. We're saying the same things over and over. We've got to be sharper. We're trying to find a way to win a game on the road."

-- Tampa Bay forward Marty St. Louis said in regards to his team starting off the year 0-5-0 on the road.

"Three power-play goals were the key. A lot of times last year we were at the other end of specialty teams. Tonight it paid off for us."

-- Florida head coach Jacques Martin said Wednesday night after his Panthers knocked off the Carolina Hurricanes, the division leader in the Southeast.

The week ahead -- On Friday, Nov. 2, the Capitals are home to the Flyers and the Panthers travel to Buffalo. On Saturday, Nov. 3, the Hurricanes host Florida Panthers and Thrashers are in Tampa Bay.

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