Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 12/30/09 at 09:07 PM ET
Eric Staal has played in two long playoff seasons. He has won the Stanley Cup once. He is one of only six players to have scored thirty or more goals in each season from 2005/06 to 2008/09. When Steve Yzerman announced Team Canada’s roster on Wednesday, Staal learned that he will represent his country in the Olympics for the first time. He was on the taxi squad in 2006 and was never called upon.
He’s off to a slow start this season. Even slower than usual. He played at less than 100% for several games and missed ten games with injuries, but since returning, he’s been in great form. He might just now be hitting his full stride this season, and the timing couldn’t be much better for team Canada. Although he’s a natural center, he’s been playing a little bit at right wing (which is where Team Canada will need him), and he’s been doing quite well.
It’s a pretty incredible stat that only Dany Heatley, Jarome Iginla, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Ovechkin, Eric Staal and Henrik Zetterberg scored 30 or more goals in each of the four seasons from 2005/06 to 2008/09. Thanks to injury and a really poor showing by the whole team, Staal is off to a bad start this season, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to make it to 30 this season. He’s currently sitting on just 8 goals, and it seems like he might not even make it to 20. But…
Carolina’s coaching staff has been juggling the line combinations lately, and they came up with a really good one of Jussi Jokinen/Matt Cullen/Eric Staal. They’ve only been together for four periods of regulation play, and all they’ve done is pile up 16 (5/11) points in that time against the Flyers and the high-flying Capitals.
Not only has Staal found some great chemistry with this line, but he’s found a groove since returning from injury. He’s played in 16 games since missing ten in a row with the injury. In those 16 games, he’s compiled 21 (5/16) points. This is pretty good, but unless he has some specacular games, his new momentum might be too little and too late. If he continues at the clip he’s been on for the last three weeks, he’ll finish the season with 21 goals and 60 assists. This’ll be better than a point a night, but it still won’t be enough to get the detractors off his back. And it won’t be enough to continue his streak of four seasons with 30 or more goals.
There are a lot of Caniacs and a lot of Cane-haters who have enjoyed criticizing Staal this season for his lack of production. They all point to his huge contract extension and say that the Hurricanes have overpaid for an underacheiver. While his numbers aren’t quite where we want them to be this season, I still can’t complain about a guy who competes the way Eric Staal does. I’m glad to have him on my favorite team, as most hockey fans would. I wouldn’t be surprised if he catches fire in the second half of the season. It may seem silly right now, but as bad as things are right now, it’s not even a foregone conclusion that the Hurricanes miss the playoffs. They’re starting to play better, with confidence. While they’re dead last in the NHL, they’re still only 13 points out of eighth place. A seven or eight game winning streak could put them in the mix. At least out of last.
There are 22 games between now and the Olympic break, and 21 after it. If the Canes can get to 12th in the East by then, I’ll feel pretty good. If Staal can get to 20 goals by then, I’ll feel pretty good. They’ll both be making up for slow starts, and they’ll both be in a position to salvage the season.
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About Red and Black Hockey
David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.