When the whistle blew seven minutes, 54 seconds into the second period Thursday, Jordan Staal slowly skated toward the penalty box, his expression showing agitation and frustration after being called for slashing.
The Carolina Hurricanes led the Washington Capitals 1-0 at the Verizon Center and Staal would not be in the box long. Troy Brouwers power-play goal tied the score for the Capitals, and Staal was on the ice later in the period when Mike Greens goal pushed Washington ahead 2-1.
The Caps would win 3-1. It was yet another loss for the Canes, their seventh in a row and 14th in the past 15 games. It was also another tough night for Staal, who has a minus-18 rating in his first season with the Hurricanes.
I really wanted this season, coming in here, for this team to win and for me to be a part of that, Staal said before the game. I feel like to a certain degree Ive felt like I was letting the team down.
Ive never been in this situation before. Its not fun. Youve got to let some (of the frustration) go and just go work and hope that if you keep working good things will happen.
When Staal was traded to the Canes by the Pittsburgh Penguins last June, he joked about looking good in red. He talked of helping his new team reach the postseason after a three-year absence.
He won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2009. His brother, Eric, won the Cup with the Canes in 2006 and is Carolinas captain. Success seemed to be a given with the brothers centering the top two lines.
Jordan Staal quickly signed a 10-year, $60 million contract extension with the Hurricanes. Is his mind, exciting days were ahead.
Instead, the Canes (16-22-2) almost assuredly will miss the playoffs again. Theyll do it in a shortened NHL season that began after a trying lockout, and after a promising start.
Instead, the lofty expectations that came with the big contract caused Staal to press, as if trying too hard to be too good.
Obviously thats the first thing kind of everyone looks at, he said of the extension. Its tough. Obviously you try to fill big shoes and sometimes you get ahead of yourself and kind of forget about the day-to-day work and what really got you there in the first place.
I obviously want to help this team the best I can. This year wasnt what we wanted. Its something I have to work on mentally to do those little things to be the good player that contract deserves.
Canes coach Kirk Muller said Staal is too tough on himself, that the teams woes are a collective problem.
I think at times he has put so much pressure on himself it has eaten away at him, Muller said. Mentally, that just drains you. And he looks like hes mentally drained sometimes.
But I think the biggest thing is he has changed his game a little bit trying to get his identity. Hes come in and played a whole different style, not only for our team but his own play. You tie that all in, in a short season with no practices, and thats a lot in one year for a player.
Initially, Staal appeared to adapt well to having Jeff Skinner on his left wing. In the first 13 games, Skinner had seven goals (five at even strength) and seven assists. Staal had one goal but picked up 10 assists and was plus-2.
Then Skinner suffered a concussion, missing five games. Since his return, Skinner has played with Staal but the line has not been as productive.
In Pittsburgh, Staal was the third-line center behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. He had 25 goals and 25 assists last season and believed he would improve those numbers.
He has nine goals and 15 assists after 40 games, which would equate to about a 20-goal, 50-point season with an 82-game schedule.
Muller said not having a full training camp this year probably hurt Staal, that it would have given him time to learn the new system.
It wouldnt have hurt, Staal said. But still the onus is on me to be better. Ive still got lots of room for improvement and thats what I want to do.
Its unfortunate. I really wanted us to get there this season.