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Penguins notebook: Hurricanes' Staal back in form

| Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, 8:42 p.m.
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The Hurricanes' Jordan Staal is stopped by the Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury during the second period Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

Center Jordan Staal wasn't himself in his first season with Carolina, the pressure of a 10-year, $60 million contract perhaps forcing him out of his comfort zone.

Staal is back to being himself this season, focusing on shutdown defense first.

“He's a completely different player,” Carolina coach Kirk Muller said. “He's had the opportunity to absorb the (trade). He was great last year attitude-wise. It just didn't click for him. He looks more comfortable now.”

The 25-year-old former Penguins standout added muscle but lost weight during the summer, trimming down from 230 to 220 pounds while looking more imposing.

His slightly different physique has Staal feeling better about himself. So, too, does the fact that he is returning to his roots as a defensive-minded player, letting the offense come as opposed to forcing it.

“It's been a good start for me,” he said. “I'm getting back to where my game fits. My approach to the game is a little different this year.”

Staal doesn't have a point in two games. Of course, he's already played a key role in shutting down quality centers like Henrik Zetterberg and Claude Giroux. This was a trademark of Staal's six seasons in Pittsburgh when he was a combined plus-53. He was a minus-18 in his first year with the Hurricanes.

“So far it's been good,” Staal said. “Obviously the blame was on me last year, but there were a lot of factors. It's been good this year.”

Wiffle Ball-gate

Penguins general manager Ray Shero denied a report that right wing James Neal pulled an oblique muscle last week in practice when the Penguins played a Wiffle Ball game in tribute to the Pirates' season.

Neal came onto the ice the following day, then abruptly left practice.

He attempted to play in the season opener the next night against New Jersey, only to depart early in the first period.

“Not accurate,” Shero said. “100 percent not true.”

Neal hasn't skated since last Thursday and the Penguins are listing him as “week-to-week.”

Americans stick together

In a few months, recently fired Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette will join Dan Bylsma's coaching staff at the Olympics. The Penguins coach decided to check up on Laviolette following his dismissal from the Flyers.

Bylsma said he was “shocked” by the news and contacted Laviolette on Monday.

Letang improving

Defenseman Kris Letang skated on his own for a third consecutive day but still hasn't taken part in a team practice. It remains unknown if Letang will accompany the team on its two-day, two-game road trip to Florida this weekend.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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