RALEIGH — No one asked that Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal come out and address the media Wednesday night.
But after the Canes' 4-3 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes at the RBC Center, a miserable game in which he was on the ice for three of the Coyotes' goals, Staal had something to say and asked to be heard.
"I've got to be the best player on the ice on a night like tonight, and I wasn't," Staal said.
"Obviously no excuse. I've got to be better than I was and be there for our team, and be a guy to step up in a situation when things don't go your way (and) you need someone to ... score a big goal and make a big play."
Staal has always been that type of player for the Hurricanes. He scored big goals, won playoff games and has been there when his team needed him most. His name is on the Stanley Cup with the rest of the Canes' 2005-2006 team.
When the time came for Rod Brind'Amour to step down as captain, Staal was the obvious choice.
But this season, the goals have not come. He has not been able to will his team to victories. The frustration mounted as the Canes lost game after game, costing Paul Maurice his job as coach.
New coach Kirk Muller has tried to instill confidence in his team and has asked Staal to be the one to lead them - not just with scoring but with consistent play at both ends, with a positive body language.
"We need guys to step up, guys like me, guys who have been here a while and played in the league to perform in a game like that," Staal said after the Canes saw a 3-1 lead evaporate and the Coyotes rally to win.
The Canes (10-19-6) fell behind 1-0 as former Canes winger Ray Whitney, who returned to the RBC Center in a Coyotes jersey for the first time, scored an early power-play goal. But Tuomo Ruutu tied it in the first. Goals by Andreas Nodl and Jiri Tlusty in the second period pushed the Canes ahead 3-1 and appeared to push the Coyotes, who won a road game Tuesday night against the Florida Panthers, to the brink.
But Cal O'Reilly's goal for Phoenix 13 minutes, 24 seconds into the second period changed everything. It energized the Coyotes and knocked the Canes back.
"We were in control of the game, we pushed the pace, we knew they had played (Tuesday) night," Canes defenseman Bryan Allen said. "For whatever reason we're waiting for bad things to happen instead of kind of grabbing the bulls by the horns."
Rostislav Klesla's goal early in the third period tied the score 3-3 for Phoenix (18-13-3), and Lauri Korpikoski's 4-on-4 score with nine minutes, 12 seconds left would be the winner.
Asked after the game if it was the most frustrated he has been in the NHL, Staal said, "Yeah, I would say."
Staal noted the Canes were at the bottom of the NHL's Eastern Conference. He noted his numbers - seven goals, 13 assists - suffer in comparison to his past production. He now has a minus-21 rating.
"I want to win," Staal said. "I want to be in the playoffs. I want to win in this market again.
"It isn't happening and it's been extremely frustrating. There's a ton of frustrating things going on but what am I going to do? Am I going to sit here and feel sorry for myself? I need to step up and be better regardless."
Muller said Staal accepting responsibility was a good step.
"But it's not about one guy leading the charge," Muller said. "It's a collective group that has to get out of these situations."