Staal works to find scoring touch

Canes await end of slump

Staff writerMarch 18, 2011 

  • Islanders at Hurricanes

    When: 7 p.m.

    Where: RBC Center, Raleigh

    TV: FSCR

    Radio: WCMC-99.9

— Eric Staal said he feels good, feels strong, feels he's competing as hard as he can for the Carolina Hurricanes.

No, the team's captain said Thursday, he has not been worn down by a multitude of minutes, by being asked to do so much. No, he said, he's not pressing, not letting the frustration of the Canes' recent offensive woes adversely affect his play.

Staal did slam his stick at the bench - once, twice, three times - during a 2-1 loss last week against the Washington Capitals. But that brief outburst, he said, was caused by his competitiveness, not mounting frustration.

"I do that all the time," he said, breaking into a smile.

But what Staal hasn't been doing enough of lately is scoring goals and producing points. Nor is he the only one. The Hurricanes, who host the New York Islanders tonight, have put 179 shots on net in the past five games and scored just seven goals - a funk that has come at the wrong time of the season, with Carolina (32-29-10) fighting to reach the playoffs.

How to escape it?

"Stay with what we're doing," Staal said. "We've played well, we've been on the attack, creating a lot of offense. We need to keep shooting, and eventually they'll start finding the back of the net and we'll get some good breaks.

"We're trying to win. We're working hard, we're competing. But we need to stick with what we're doing and stay upbeat."

Working hard to win

The Canes outshot the Toronto Maple Leafs 33-19 on Wednesday and outchanced them offensively only to lose 3-1. Staal, getting a season-high 26 minutes, 38 seconds in ice time, had nine shots on goal, and seven came in the third period.

"He worked his butt off," coach Paul Maurice said Thursday. "There was no fall-off in his game. He was driving hard in the third period."

Staal was used on the power play and on the penalty kill. He won 12 of his 20 faceoffs.

"I feel strong on the ice," Staal said. "I feel my stride in the third period was as good as it was to start the game. I'm controlling the puck down low, and those are things that when you're tired it's tough to do.

"I feel I'm doing the things I want to do out there. It's just a matter of getting that thing in the back of the net."

Carolina scored a first-period power-play goal against the Leafs when Chad LaRose tipped in a shot by Brandon Sutter. Though the power-play goal was badly needed, ending a troublesome 0-for-28 power-play streak, it was only time the Canes could beat rookie goalie James Reimer.

The Leafs, in turn, got two power-play goals from Dion Phaneuf - the first on a shot that glanced off the back of Canes defenseman Tim Gleason and past goalie Cam Ward. The third goal came on a fast-striking play as Tyler Bozak flashed in front of the net and knocked in a centering pass.

'Getting the looks'

Staal is averaging more than 22 minutes a game, second among NHL forwards, and leads all forwards in shifts per game (27.6). He has 29 goals and 34 assists but has gone five games without a goal and has two goals in his past 14.

"I'm getting the looks," Staal said. "I don't know what else I would change with my game. These are things that happen in the course of a season. I need to stay with that attack, that jump, that competitiveness, as well as our whole team."

In the 20 games before the NHL All-Star Game at the RBC Center, Staal had 12 goals and 10 assists. In his past 20 games, he has four goals and seven assists, leading some to wonder if the demands of the Jan. 30 All-Star Game - being a captain, drafting a team, being so visible that weekend - caused lingering fatigue.

"I was battling a bit of the flu after the game, which took some time to fight through," Staal said. "But a lot of guys go through that."

Staal also missed the Feb. 26 game in Montreal after being hit in the neck and head by the Pittsburgh Penguins' Matt Niskanen. Again, he said, not a problem.

"Right now, I feel as good as I've felt all year," Staal said.

Doing his job

Maurice calls Staal the "big dog" and said the center must produce offensively in the final 11 games for the Canes to make it to the playoffs.

"He carries the big yoke ... and he's done it well," Maurice said. "He is going to have to drive the offense. At the same time, he cannot drive that offense by cheating, and he hasn't - hanging back, overextending shifts.

"He is so much better in that area than even a year ago. He has made great strides in his game. ... He is becoming an outstanding captain/leader and doing exactly what he's supposed to be doing."

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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