Staal disappointed but happy for St. Louis

Posted by Chip Alexander on February 6, 2014 

The Canes' practice had ended Thursday at PNC Arena and the face of Martin St. Louis filled the screen of the TV in the locker room.

The Tampa Bay Lighting star had officially been named to Team Canada for the 2014 Olympics, replacing teammate Steven Stamkos. It was announced Wednesday that Stamkos would be unable to go to Sochi, that his broken leg still needed time to heal, and speculation quickly began as to whom would take Stamkos' spot -- St. Louis, perhaps Eric Staal of the Canes or Claude Giroux of Philadelphia? The name game began.

But St. Louis it would be.

"I'm happy for him," Staal said. "He's had a great season. He's had a great career obviously. I'm happy he can go over there and experience that and enjoy the opportunity, and I'm looking forward to my break."

Staal helped Canada win the Olympic gold medal in Vancouver in 2010 and hoped to go to Sochi to defend it. He was deeply disappointed early last month when the Olympic team was announced by Hockey Canada and he was not on it.

Staal said he was contacted by Team Canada officials last week to update him on the situation with Stamkos, who has not played since breaking his tibia in a Nov. 11 game against Boston.

"There were a few guys for sure they had on a list for possible replacements," Staal said.

Canes coach Kirk Muller said he was disappointed for Staal, again, but noted that Staal taking a two-week break for the Olympics wouldn't be a bad thing, either. The Canes will play 16 games in March, with four back-to-back sets.

"It would have been great to see Eric participate, because you only have so many times in your career you can play for your country and no one knows about the future of it with NHL guys participating," Muller said. "The opportunity would have been great. But it didn't happen.

"Ever since the team was named Eric has picked up his game and I think he wants to prove everybody wrong. From the selfish side of it, as far as our team, I think he's really focused on getting his team into the playoffs."

As for Thursday’s practice, the Canes again spent some time on the power play, although Muller was quick to note, "We're not working on it for punishment. It's an area we've got to get better at just like defensive zone coverage or whatever. I think they enjoyed it. I loved their intensity of it today.

"It was just simplifying it and getting more pucks to the net and being hungry to hunt down and get second and third opportunities and get away from being a perimeter power play."

Anton Khudobin and Cam Ward were in the nets for the practice session. Muller did not commit to a starter against the Florida Panthers on Friday and said a decision would be made after the game about Saturday's starter against Montreal in the Canes’ final game before the Olympic break.

Other the Canes' four Olympians, the players will be scattering far and wide for some R&R.

"It's important that they get a rest because when we get back it's going to be a tough schedule," Muller said. "It's like a race to the finish line. Everyone will be hungry to get off to a good start. It's going to be like a shortened-season mentality."

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