After taking a day off following back-to-back wins, the Carolina Hurricanes took to the ice at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. on Sunday to prepare for their next game at home against the undefeated Boston Bruins on Monday.
Even though Carolina swept the Bruins last season, finishing with a clean 4-0 record against the 2011 Stanley Cup Champions, the battle that the Hurricanes will enter into against Boston this season has them showcasing some extra muscle and talent.
Cue assistant captain Jordan Staal to help Carolina work to extend that winning streak against the B’s.
Impressive start and transition
Staal is averaging a point per game following the team’s recent 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center in Buffalo, N.Y. on Friday.
The six-foot-four-inch center, acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins in a transaction announced during the 2012 NHL Draft held in Pittsburgh, Pa., was excited to come to Raleigh and play on the same team as brother, and captain of the Hurricanes, Eric Staal.
The investment made by President and General Manager Jim Rutherford was a ten-year, $60 million deal in return for Staal’s ability to create space and capitalize on scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates.
If there was any question whether the commitment that the Hurricanes made to bring the large and fast-skating forward in to bolster up its lineup at both ends of the ice was worth it - the answer is a simple one.
Heading into his seventh NHL season, Staal finished with the best point per game ratio of his career playing with the Penguins last year, scoring 50 points (25 goals, 25 assists) in 62 games and finishing with a plus/minus rating of plus-11.
The 24-year-old also scored five power plays goals and added three more playing shorthanded, setting additional individual career milestones.
Thus, the start he has gotten off to with the Hurricanes, making plays at both ends of the ice and earning points doing it, confirms the bill of goods that the team received when they acquired him.
After Thursday’s win over Buffalo in Raleigh, Staal echoed the sentiment of his teammates in how it felt to finally get a win, his first in a Hurricanes jersey, after suffering two straight losses.
“It was good,” Staal said.
“I think everyone is just starting to feel more comfortable with the puck and more comfortable with the system. You could tell we were moving the puck better, breaking out of our zone better, and moving our feet on the forecheck.”
Staal earned two assists in that game.
His presence in and around the Sabres’ net made him a threat to score every time the puck came near him, while at the same time opening up space for linemate Jeff Skinner to do what he does best – to create scoring opportunities.
Skinner ended up scoring two goals on the night, and with Staal earning an assist on one of them.
In his own end, the imposing forward broke up a passing play just inside the Carolina blue line on the penalty kill that enabled defenseman Justin Faulk to break out of the zone, skate along the boards, and to finish the play by scoring his first goal of the season.
An assist was recorded on the score sheet to Staal on that one as well.
Staal’s skating and puckhandling abilities have enabled him to play in offensive and defensive roles as head coach Kirk Muller has needed him to.
“It’s so great as a coach to have a line that can play head-to-head with top guys,” Muller said.
In all games played to date, Staal has not only been used at even-strength, but on special teams as well.
Playing on both the power play and the penalty kill, he’s logged an average of 19 minutes of playing time, while taking three shots on goal per game, and winning 53 percent of the faceoffs he’s taken against top centers from Florida, Tampa Bay, and Buffalo.
In centering a productive line with a creative scorer like Skinner and complemented with an energetic winger, Zac Dalpe at the moment, Staal’s line has allowed Muller to open up opportunities to regularly roll three and even four lines when possible.
“Jordan really did a great job opening up space for Juice’s line and Eric’s,” said Muller after Thursday’s win over Buffalo.
Before this season, all opposing teams thought they needed to do against Carolina was to contain and contend with Eric, Skinner, and goaltender Cam Ward.
It was always these three ‘usual suspects’ who were mentioned, regardless of the coach or the player you asked.
However, with Jordan Staal in the mix, all opposing teams now have to rethink their strategy when playing against the Hurricanes.
Thus, after four games, if anyone needed more affirmation of the impact that this young rising star would have in making the Carolina Hurricanes a tougher team to play against, as coach Muller would put it, the answer once again is still pretty clear.