‘Canes captain Staal: Season was ‘frustrating and difficult’

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It didn’t take Eric Staal many words to sum up Carolina’s 2013 campaign.

“Frustrating and difficult,” he told the Raleigh News and Observer as the ‘Canes cleared out their dressing room on Monday.

If Staal had to choose another word, it probably would’ve been “shocking.”

The ‘Canes captain admitted he didn’t expect to be doing year-end interviews this early, especially after his club got off to a 15-9-1 start and led the Southeast Division on Mar. 13.

Things began to crumble from there, though.

A 3-2 loss to the Capitals on Mar. 14 started a 1-13-1 slide that essentially eliminated Carolina from postseason contention, something Staal acknowledged.

“We were playing Washington and they were far behind us and you’re thinking about putting them in the rear-view mirror for good,” he explained. “And then some unfortunate circumstances and from there it just kind of went the other direction.”

Staal and Carolina now face a pretty curious offseason.

The club needs to decide how much of the aforementioned slump was due to key injuries (Cam Ward, Justin Faulk, Joni Pitkanen) and how much lies with a defensive core GM Jim Rutherford said needed improvement for 2013-14.

“Whether it be a physical defenseman, a puck-moving defenseman, two puck-moving defensemen, whatever it is, those are things the management team and the coaching staff will discuss at the end of the year,” he said. “That’s an area it’s clear we need to make stronger.”

Rutherford also said the group “made it too easy for opponents,” this season and needs “to be a lot harder to play against.”

The ‘Canes are locked into five defensemen next year — Pitkanen, Faulk, Tim Gleason, Jamie McBain, Jay Harrison — and it’s expected Ryan Murphy, the 12th overall pick at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, will have a legit shot of making the roster.

Staal sounded upbeat at the possibilities for next year.

“Over the summer there will be some changes, I’m sure,” he said, “and a fresh outlook and obviously some guys getting healthier and we’ll be back ready to go in the fall.”