Canes coach Kirk Muller was quick to credit his team leaders Thursday after a comeback road win over the Washington Capitals.
Nor did Muller hesitate to his criticize his “top guys” for some less-than-stellar play after the Canes’ 5-3 loss Sunday to the Phoenix Coyotes.
As team captain, Eric Staal accepts the praise. He also accepts the blame.
“We haven’t played as good at times as we probably should,” Staal said Tuesday after the Canes’ morning skate at PNC Arena. “We’re not going to score every game. We’re not going to have a great offensive game every game. But it’s also about other areas of the game.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
“We’ve got a good team here. We’ve got some very good players throughout our lineup that can contribute to winning games. So we need to be smart about what we're doing if we're not scoring. There's a few plays last game where we still could have had three or four goals but we didn't cash in. But you can't give up goals against. Those are the things we need to work on and get better.
“You wanted to be counted on. You want to be a guy who leads when you're on the ice. So we'll continue to work to do that for us."
The Canes have a number of young players. They look up to Staal -- as a proven veteran, as a leader, as the captain. It's a responsibility he doesn't take lightly.
"No question," he said. "At this point it's not the work ethic that's a problem. It's about being smart in certain situations."
Staal said he made the mistake early in the third period Sunday of going after a bouncing puck. The Coyotes grabbed it and were off and flying, scoring off the rush for a 4-3 lead.
"Sometimes that's pressing a little bit hard and trying to be the guy to score the winner rather than knowing we have a good enough team here that everybody is going to contribute and help us get the win," Staal said. "So you still learn as you go. But I know that if I bring my work ethic and my game it's going to help us as a group and help myself as well."
Staal suffered a serious knee injury n May in the IIHF World Championship and pushed himself in rehab over the summer to be ready for training camp. He has two goals and an assist in six games, but is minus-5, has misfired on some passes he normally makes and made some defensive mistakes.
But Staal said the timing and hands and sharpness is there, as well as his physical conditioning.
"I feel really good," he said. "I could easily have five goals. I could have had three last game. I hit the post once. I missed the net on the power play.
"The offensive chances are there. Sometimes they go in and sometimes they don't. It's not like I have no chances and no offense going. They're there. It's just about being smart in other areas of the game."
Staal’s line will have a change tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks. Tuomo Ruutu will replace Jiri Tlusty at left wing as Muller tries to get his top line going.
“We’ve got to get a little more forechecking in the offensive zone, get a little more aggressive while also being smart with our high guy,” Staal said. “Be a little more in there and control the puck because when Alex (Semin) is hanging on to it and moving his feet, he’s tough to play against. And me as well.
“I think we were a little off as far as getting in there so (Muller) decided to change it up. (Ruutu) is fresh. He’s been off for a little bit. So he’s excited to be out there.”