Former Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal is still trying to find his way as a New York Ranger, and he may have finally broken through Sunday night with both Blueshirts’ goals in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Heading into Sunday’s game, Staal, 31, had suited up for all 13 games since coming over to New York from Carolina, but he had found the score sheet in just two games for a total of three points. And for a player who was one of the trade deadline’s hot commodities, that’s hardly a dazzling stat line, especially given the Rangers traded two picks and a prospect to land Staal. He showed he can be the type of power forward the Rangers need come playoff time in the opening minutes of Sunday’s game, though.
Less than five minutes into the contest, Staal and Kevin Hayes broke through the neutral zone on a 2-on-2. After Staal made a short pass to Hayes, the veteran center turned on the jets and created a gap between himself and Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley. Hayes laid a perfect saucer pass into the slot area, and Staal muscled past Daley and managed to one-time the pass with one hand on his stick:
Staal’s goal isn’t necessarily the type of one-timer that’s going to score from any farther than five or ten feet out, but he even managed a one-handed wind up before smacking the puck on goal. It’s a great tally and specifically the type of play the Rangers were hoping they’d be getting more of from Staal.
In 14 games with the Rangers, Staal now has three goals and five points, but he’s seen a precipitous drop in ice time and production in his new home. Before coming over to New York, Staal was averaging little more than half a point per game and 19:17 of ice time per contest. His ice time has dropped by an average of nearly three minutes per game in New York, and Staal’s production is closer to one-third of a point per outing.
For as great as Sunday’s game-opening goal was, though, if Staal’s production doesn’t increase or his asking price doesn’t reflect his current rate of production, one has to wonder if the Rangers will be interested in bringing the free agent-to-be back to the Big Apple next season. He’s currently in the final season of a seven-year, $57.75-million contract and is earning $9.5 million in salary this season.