Penguins' Staal wants to control his own emotions better
The defense, it's pretty much always there. The shots have come in spurts. The goals -- make that singular, goal -- finally came.
There still is an aspect of his game Jordan Staal finds lacking, one that doesn't show up in statistics, at least not directly.
The Penguins' forward can be prone to getting frustrated and letting things get to him.
• Game: Penguins vs. Edmonton Oilers.
• When: 7 p.m. tomorrow.
• Where: Mellon Arena.
• TV: FSN Pittsburgh.
"That's something that I've got to work on," Staal said yesterday after practice at Southpointe. "I get down and out sometimes. It's something that I've mentally got to be better at, really keep myself up and focused and ready to play."
For now, things are good.
That's because Staal and the Penguins broke out of their recent funk in a 6-3 win Saturday against the Blues in St. Louis. They don't play again until tomorrow at home against Edmonton.
Staal had been one of several players searching for his scoring touch. He found his in the final minute with an empty-net goal.
It was essentially a two-on-one, and Evgeni Malkin passed ahead to Staal instead of moving up and taking the shot himself.
"He's a pretty good guy and he decided to give me one," Staal said, acknowledging that his teammates knew how down in the dumps he had been.
"Everyone was happy for me," he said of the goal.
Empty-netters don't normally spawn a regular scoring celebration, but Staal couldn't help it, and his teammates joined in.
"His little celebration afterward, it looked like he was about 20 pounds lighter," Penguins assistant Mike Yeo said. "It's a big monkey off his back. He does so many things really well out there. The focus so often is on scoring, and that's sometimes how you evaluate your game, but Jordan Staal's a guy who can not score a goal but have a phenomenal game. But everybody wants to score goals."
Staal, 20, set the bar high in 2006-07 when he scored 29 as a rookie, seven of them short-handed as he became a penalty-killing fixture. He had 12 last season, but picked things up in the playoffs, netting six in 20 games as the Penguins advanced to the Stanley Cup final.
"Last year in the playoffs I was asking him how to score goals," said road roommate and, for now, linemate Tyler Kennedy.
Through the first 11 games this season, Staal had three assists but no goals in a little more than 20 minutes of ice time a game -- some at winger and some at center, where he is now.
His shots were coming sporadically -- nine over his first two games, one over his next three, eight over the following three, then one in his past four, which produced the empty-net goal.
Staal said at times he was looking to pass too much and overlooking shots.
"Some of it is opportunity, but, ultimately, with the speed of the game, the player has to make the read and make the decision," Yeo said.
Things reached a breaking point Thursday after a 4-1 loss at Phoenix. The Penguins weren't scoring or winning. Staal hadn't had a shot in three games. He called out the team, including himself, saying everyone needed to play better. It was unusual for Staal to speak up in such a way, but he felt he and the team had hit bottom.
"We kind of figured we can't get much worse than this," he said. "We realized that if we come together and really work hard, there's no question what we can do. It seemed like everyone was going last game and contributing somehow. That really took us to the next level."
Kennedy wasn't surprised that Staal broke out of it.
"He wasn't getting the bounces, but I think he puts everything he's got into it, and you can't ask for more than that. That's how you tell he's a good player, and he's going to be a great player," said Kennedy, whose goal against the Blues also was a drought-buster.
"You don't score in a while, it's always nice to get one in. It takes a lot of pressure off you," Kennedy said. "I think they're going to start rolling in for [Staal]. I think his confidence is back. I think he's just going to get better and better."
The relief wasn't complete until he got that empty-netter.
"It was nice to get that first one," Staal said. "I just want to keep it rolling from now on."
First Published November 5, 2008 12:00 am