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Staal's Play Among League's Elite

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

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December is a huge month for all the top players around the National Hockey League as the brain trust from the major nations get set to finalize their rosters for the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. The Penguins figure to be well represented with the likes of Sidney Crosby (Canada), Evgeni Malkin (Russia), Sergei Gonchar (Russia) and Marc-Andre Fleury (Canada).

With the way Jordan Staal has played over his last 15 games, Steve Yzerman, the general manager for the Canadian team, is going to have a lot of trouble leaving Staal off the final roster. Staal paved the way for the Penguins in their 6-1 victory over the archrival Philadelphia Flyers with two goals, including a critical shorthanded tally late in the first period.

“That is always in the back of my mind,” said Staal of playing for Canada. “That is an opportunity that who knows what is going to happen. I am just happy to be a part of that (talk) and we will see where it goes.”

A couple more performances like the one he put on Tuesday against the Flyers and his plane out of Pittsburgh International Airport on Feb. 15 will take him straight to Vancouver. In his past 15 games Staal has recorded 14 of his 21 points (6G-8A). It’s not just the sheer numbers being posted by Staal, but he is getting those points in critical moments.

“He has really stepped up his game,” Mike Rupp said. “Jordan Staal is coming along as a pretty big star in this league. He does everything, he knows the game and he is just natural at different aspects of the game.”

In the later stages of the first period the Penguins were killing a minor penalty taken just shortly after Philadelphia’s Daniel Carcillo had cut the Penguins’ lead to 2-1. Rather than allow the Flyers to come all the way back to tie the game, Staal scored a backbreaking shorthanded goal which all but deflated the Flyers.

Brooks Orpik took the biscuit behind his own cage and wrapped it to Matt Cooke standing on the left-side boards. Cooke found Staal streaking through the middle of the ice and Staal took over from there, skating the puck the length of the ice and sending a wrist shot over the glove of Brian Boucher.

“It was one of those nights where the puck was following me around,” Staal said. “I thought my linemates did a great job getting it to me and I just tried to make plays. It was a good night.”

Staal’s shorthanded goal was his second of the season and the 10th of his career, moving him into a tie with Max Talbot and Phil Bourque for 7th place on the team’s all-time list.

If that goal didn’t break the heart of the Flyers, surely his second-period goal four seconds after another penalty against the Penguins expired did.

Crosby led a rush up the ice with Staal and Kris Letang. As Staal drove towards the net Crosby elected to pass the puck to Letang in the left circle. Boucher used his left pad to kick away Letang’s chance, but Staal was right there on his doorstep to sweep the puck into the cage to give the Penguins a commanding 4-1 lead.

“Sid made a great pass to Tanger,” Staal said. “I thought he was going to give it to me but he gave it to him. Tanger had a great shot off the pad and I had an easy job to put it in the net.”

While Staal made scoring look easy against the Flyers, Malkin almost ended Staal’s night prematurely as time was winding down in the third period. The puck came to Malkin at the center point and his slap shot went directly off Staal standing in the slot. Because he was able to avoid serious injury, Staal was able to joke about the play after.

“I took it in my stomach,” Staal said. “Another great shot by Geno. I was just hoping it was going to bounce off me to Sid but it kind of stuck there. I guess I have been eating too much junk lately.

“I’m fine. It was a stinger and went away after a few minutes.”

The Flyers definitely wish they could find a way to make Staal go away. He now has three goals in the two matchups between the teams in 2009-10 and nine goals in 23 career regular-season games.

“He is just so young and is just maturing,” Cooke said. “It sounds weird, but when he grows into that frame, and realizes how powerful he can be, he is just going to be even more dangerous out there.”

Unless the Flyers find a way to contain Staal and the Penguins’ other two young centers they are going to continue to have trouble stopping the Penguins. With Staal leading the way the trio combined for seven points (Crosby, 1G-2A; Malkin, 1G-1A) and figured into all six Pittsburgh goals. Philadelphia has grown used to being dominated by Crosby and Malkin, but Staal is turning into a Flyers killer of his own.

“In a game like tonight you see 87 (Crosby) play well, 71 (Malkin) played and then you have 11 (Staal) playing like he did tonight, it’s a formidable threesome down the middle for teams to deal with,” Bylsma said. “(Staal) is a huge asset to our team. It is tough for other teams to match up against that situation.” 

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