Jordan Staal admits he was out of sorts during his first season with the Carolina Hurricanes, despite having 10 goals and 31 points in 48 games.
The big two-way center had a difficult time adjusting after being traded by his original team, the Penguins, on draft day 2012 -- also was his wedding day -- then sitting out until January because of the NHL lockout and having an abbreviated training camp with his new team.
"It was all those things, pretty mixed up," Staal said Tuesday before he and the Hurricanes played the Penguins at Consol Energy Center. "It made for a pretty tough season for myself. The blame is still on me, but it was a lot of factors."
Staal, 25, showed up a new man for his second season with Carolina.
"He's a completely different player," Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. "He's had an opportunity to absorb the move and everything. I think he just went home this year and trained hard. He came in lighter. He's in great shape.
"Attitude-wise, he was great as well last year; it just didn't click for him. But he just looks a lot more comfortable."
Although he had no points in two games entering Tuesday night, Staal feels good on the ice.
"I think I'm getting back to where my game fits," he said. "My approach to the game has been a little different than last year."
Muller is confident in using Staal in key roles.
"He's playing his game. He's playing a direct north game," Muller said. "He's using that big body. He's been going head-to-head with some top players already and he's still getting offensive opportunities."
Staal, 6 feet 4, isn't sure how much weight he lost over the summer, but knows he feels better.
He didn't change his training routine, per se.
"Just didn't eat so much chocolate, I guess," he said.
Adjusting to realignment
The game last night marked the first matchup of the teams as Metropolitan Division opponents, thanks to NHL realignment.
"It's a little different, but I think we'll get used to it the more we see them," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said.
Carolina is not a traditional rival, but Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik figures realignment could lead to one.
"I think that's what the league is shooting for, with the [playoff] format that they set up where you have to come out of your division just to get to the conference final," he said. "If you are to advance, you're guaranteed to play two teams in your division."
A week into the season, Orpik isn't quite ready to track division foes with extra scrutiny, but Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is.
"I think divisional games are extremely important," Bylsma said. "I already look [at the standings] and I'm watching the schedule to see teams playing out of conference, out of division and divisional games."
Zatkoff and Hurricanes ...
Penguins backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff and his fiancee live in Raleigh, N.C., and he has gotten to know and work out with several Hurricanes in the offseason.
He's not able to offer much of a scouting report on them, though.
"Usually I skate with them toward the end of the summer when things start kicking up. The skates aren't real serious at that point," he said. "They have a great group of guys."
Zatkoff has benefited from spending time with Carolina goaltender Cam Ward.
"Just being able to skate with Ward is nice for me, just to be able to learn from him -- same way as [with Penguins goalie Marc-Andre] Fleury," he said. "He's been around in the league. He's accomplished. They've both won a [Stanley] Cup. Anytime I get a chance to skate with those guys, it doesn't hurt."
Flyers switch shocks Bylsma
Bylsma was caught off guard by the firing of coach Peter Laviolette by the Philadelphia Flyers after their 0-3 start.
"Shocked to see it happen at this point in time," Bylsma said. "I have reached out to him."
Laviolette will be one of Bylsma's assistant coaches on the United States Olympic team that is going to Sochi for the 2014 Games.
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang was eligible to come off of injured reserve Tuesday, but he was not in the lineup nor did he join the club for its game-day skate. Letang, who is believed to have a knee injury, skated earlier with winger Matt D'Agostini, who has an undisclosed injury. ... The Penguins only healthy scratch was defenseman Deryk Engelland.penguins
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published October 8, 2013 8:00 PM