Staal raising his level of play when it matters most
Posted May 9, 2009
After scoring two goals Friday night in the Canes’ 4-1 Game 4 win against Boston, Eric Staal found himself tied atop the league’s playoff goal-scoring standings with Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby at nine.
What’s even more impressive is that the pair of points from the Carolina alternate captain vaulted him past assistant coach Ron Francis for the all-time franchise lead in playoff points with 40, a number Staal reached in 36 games. Francis, considered one of the most underrated offensive players in the history of the league, took 62 career postseason contests to reach 39 points.
Staal’s talent level has never been a question, but in this year’s postseason, the 6-foot-4 center has taken his already impressive game to a new level.
Ironically, according to head coach Paul Maurice, it may be the very man whose franchise record Staal just surpassed that deserves a lot of credit for his success.
“He was pressing and felt the weight of being the offensive leader of the team,” Maurice admitted after Game 4. “When you watched it at time, you probably used the word ‘cheat,’ but it wasn’t for points, he was trying to cheat for wins. He’d hang a little deeper, just to score – not for his own numbers, he’s not like that at all, he’s a real team first player. That’s where having a guy like [Ron] Francis on your staff, that’s where it really makes a big difference. He can go to him and say, 'Listen, you take care of these other things, and your numbers are gonna be there, and we’re gonna win more.’ He’s started to do that, and since that time, he’s just been fantastic.”
Number 12’s evolution from talented prospect to NHL All-Star wasn’t instant like Crosby or Washington Capitals phenom Alexander Ovechkin, who tallied 39 and 52 goals in their rookie seasons respectively compared to Staal’s 11. But Maurice recognized what kind of player he had on his hands even before the Ontario native started lighting the lamp with regularity.
“I remember when he came in as an 18-year-old,” Maurice reminisced. “Right from training camp, he’d get the puck through the middle of the ice, and he’d almost get by people. You could see it – and you knew he was about 20 pounds away from being able to do it, 20 pounds of leg strength, that he would be able to do those things. … You knew that when [Staal] physically matured, that a lot of things that were in [his] head [he was] going to be able to do in a game.”
Suffice it to say, Staal has added that 20 pounds, emerging as one of the game’s greatest combinations of size, speed and skill.
Interestingly enough, it seems like the two-time 40-goal scorer has developed just as much this year between the ears and, because of it, is in a better position than ever to dominate the games that mean the most to him and his team.