Eric Staal discusses falling short of playoffs, Erik Cole’s departure and Canes’ changes

1 Comment

Considering the NHL’s lengthy 82-game seasons, it’s a bit surprising how often a playoff berth can come down to a team’s final contest. The Carolina Hurricanes stared that situation straight in the eyes in April – and ultimately blinked – as the Tampa Bay Lightning handed them an embarrassing 6-2 defeat.

When you get walloped like the Canes did in such a big game, the loss probably lingers for everyone involved with the team. That being said, the heaviest burden might have fallen on the shoulders of the team’s best player and captain, Eric Staal. Staal assisted on one of Carolina’s two goals while registering a -4 rating in that decisive game, a performance that must have left a bitter taste in the former Stanley Cup champion’s mouth. Whether it’s fair or not, that pressure comes with the territory when you’re a four-time All-Star making $7.5 million (with an $8.25 million annual cap hit).

Staal admits that he will allow that feeling to linger a bit for motivational purposes, but also noted that there will be some new faces in Carolina next season. While the Hurricanes will probably maintain their image of being an attacking offense with a shaky defense that leans heavily on the underrated work of goalie Cam Ward, there’s no denying that the team will be a little different.

The Charlotte Observer’s Chip Alexander caught up with Staal to discuss the departure of his successful linemate Erik Cole along with some of the team’s off-season additions including forwards Anthony Stewart and Alexei Ponikarovsky.

“He’s been a good friend and a guy I got to know real well, coming in at a young age in this league,” Staal said of Cole. “It was a lot of fun. But that’s the way this business works. He’s gotten a great opportunity in Montreal and great security for his family. I’m excited for him.”


Then there were the free-agent acquisitions: Stewart, Ponikarovsky, center Tim Brent and goalie Brian Boucher. Finally, there was defenseman Tomas Kaberle, who helped the Boston Bruins win the Stanley Cup last season after being traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“We picked up some good players, including some who might have been a little under the radar like Anthony Stewart,” Staal said. “Obviously, Ponikarovsky has had a lot of good seasons under his belt although he was injured last season. Brent had a good strong season with the (Maple) Leafs as a fourth-line center and played his role to a T, which is what we’re looking for. And Boucher is a quality goaltender and quality guy.”

The Canes are investing $12.75 million over three years in Kaberle. Staal called him a proven player who “has a great presence on the blue line” and should help improve the power play.

Skeptics will point to Kaberle’s ineffectiveness when it came to improving the Boston Bruins’ power play, but the former Toronto Maple Leafs PP quarterback might benefit from having more time to build chemistry with his teammates (rather than learning on the fly after being traded at the deadline). If recent trends continue, an improved power play could make a significant difference for Carolina; they’ve received more man advantage opportunities than any team in the NHL since the lockout.

An improved power play would be wonderful, but it’s hard to argue against the notion that the Canes took a step back during the summer. It’s understandable that they balked at matching Montreal’s hefty contract for Cole, but they’re essentially swapping that rejuvenated power forward and Cory Stillman for Stewart and Ponikarovsky. It’s hard to picture that being anything but a downgrade and there’s also the worry that Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner might have trouble matching his fantastic first season.

Staal scored 76 points last season, which is about what you can expect from the big and talented center since he hasn’t come very close to his breakthrough 100-point campaign in 05-06. Carolina will probably need quite a bit more than that from their captain if they hope to make the playoffs in 2011-12, though.

Vatrano presence: Bruins edge Red Wings in overtime

Frank Vatrano David Krejci

The Boston Bruins keep flipping the script.

In Wednesday’s case, it swerved to a “Cinderella” story, as little-known forward Frank Vatrano scored two of Boston’s three goals – including the overtime clincher – as the B’s beat the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 (OT).

Here’s his first goal of the night:

While this is his overtime game-winner:

It wasn’t a perfect night for the 21-year-old, yet it may have been a convincing one.

The Bruins continue to begin a month on a sour note before ending up with impressive sprees.

October: 0-3-0 start, finished month with four straight wins and victories in six of seven contests.

November: 0-3-0 start, losses in four of five; currently on a four-game winning strek with victories in five of six.

Boston faces a challenge in closing this month out against the Rangers on Friday, and it’s possible that this trend may continue, as they begin December with a three-game road trip through Western Canada.

More than anything else, the safest bet with the Bruins is for ups and downs.

Crosby roars, Malkin scores in OT for Penguins win

1 Comment

Controversy just seems to find the Pittsburgh Penguins. Credit Sidney Crosby & Co. for responding with a win on Wednesday.

Crosby generated two pretty goals, including this slam-dunk slapper:

… While Evgeni Malkin‘s overtime-winner stood as the Penguins managed a 4-3 overtime win against the St. Louis Blues tonight.

(You can see Malkin’s OT-clincher in the video above this post.)

Will this win and strong performance from Crosby silence murmurs about his relationship with Mario Lemieux? Probably not, yet it likely turns the volume down in some ways, including killing the “Is he struggling because of distractions” storyline.

You know, at least for a little while. Maybe.

Fight video: Claude Giroux vs. Nick Leddy

1 Comment

Claude Giroux isn’t the nastiest, most physical captain the Philadelphia Flyers have employed. Even so, he can be feisty at times.

Wednesday showed that, as he clearly wasn’t happy with an earlier Nick Leddy hit, and eventually got the New York Islanders defenseman to drop his gloves.

You can see the fight and the check that inspired that scrap in the video above.

It’s the fourth fight Giroux has been a part of, with his most recent adversary being may his most bitter rival.

Not a heavyweight bout between Giroux and Leddy, mind you, but sometimes it’s amusing to soak in such a rare sight.

Update: The fight may have inspired the Islanders more than the Flyers, as they bested Philly 3-1 on Wednesday.

Carter Hutton gets flipped, stays in game

Leave a comment

Carter Hutton is getting something that might make fellow Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne jealous: goal support.

Still, there was at least one moment where Rinne was likely happy to be on the bench, as Hutton was left flipping during this collision with Buffalo Sabres forward Marcus Foligno:

Remarkably, Hutton remained in the game.

If you’re the type who loves adding to your “hockey players are tough” files, put this under the goalies section.

Check out this incredible shot of that moment:

Update: The Predators held off the Buffalo Sabres to win 3-2.