Oh Captain, My Captain

By Nick Marek

On Thursday night, Eric Staal and the Carolina Hurricanes beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in route to winning their third straight home game.

Staal netted the game-winning, powerplay goal in overtime to lock up the 4-3 victory. It was Staal’s second game-winning goal of the season and first goal since the December 6 game against Calgary. In both the Calgary and Toronto games, he finished with two goals and an assist and played over 24 minutes. 13 of his 23 points have come against teams from Canada.

It’s nice to see the captain find his game and show his leadership because to say he was in a slump would be an understatement. Staal was suffering a career worst start in nearly every statistical category including an NHL worst -21 rating.

Staal scored his first goal on a breakaway in the third period on a perfect feed from Zac Dalpe. Despite not having a reliable breakaway move, he controlled the puck and found the five hole of James Reimer to bring the Canes within a goal with a little over ten minutes to play. Staal’s first goal of the night came just 40 seconds after Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul netted his 17th goal of the season to take the 3-1 lead. The captain once again had the answer mid way through the overtime period on the powerplay. The Hurricanes were running the diamond and Staal found his comfort zone on the right wing when he one-timed a shot past Reimer.

Since Kirk Muller joined the Hurricanes’ organization earlier in the month, he did not know where to place the captain because he was struggling to find chemistry with anyone and Muller relived him from the top line so he could try to find his offense with mismatches against the opponents’ second or third lines. Staal was on a line with Zac Dalpe and Drayson Bowman, two skaters who had minimal NHL playing time. But their speed and drive to score helped boost Staal’s confidence and maybe we will see the captain relax after ending his scoreless streak.

Youth has been a big part of the Hurricanes recent success and the Canes have built from their own farm systems. Defenseman Justin Faulk and forwards Zac Dalpe, Drayson Bowman, Riley Nash and Andreas Nodl all found the stat sheet in the past week and they will play a pivotal part of the Hurricanes’ season success and future. These young skaters and a confident Staal could spark something for Kirk Muller and the Carolina Hurricanes who currently sit in 27th place in the NHL.

The Hurricanes take on the Tampa Bay Lightning on the road on New Years Eve day and their New Years Resolution has to be to  turn things around in Raleigh under the new head coach.

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