Notebook: Pens' Staal facing sophomore slump
PHILADELPHIA -- Jordan Staal was one of the fresh faces that personified the Penguins last season. These days his face is a target for sticks and loose pucks, and his sophomore season has started with a dreaded slump.
Staal has needed stitch-work to his face twice this season, most recently after he was hit with a stick during a game against the Rangers on Thursday. In an early-season practice his face was busted open after he was struck by a puck.
Talk about flipping a popular phrase: Staal has literally added injury to insult during a season in which he had scored just once through 16 games prior to Saturday.
Staal had tallied only four goals in 33 regular-season games dating to last season.
"You cannot judge players by goals all the time," coach Michel Therrien said. "We are satisfied with Jordan Staal, believe it or not. It is a learning process for him. He turned 19 only two months ago."
Staal's accomplishments last season as an 18-year-old rookie -- 29 goals, a league-best seven shorthanded, and his standing as a Calder Trophy finalist -- set a lofty standard for him to reach this year.
Of course, Staal could better reach that standard if he put the puck on net more often.
Staal was credited with multiple shots in 43 regular-season games in 2006-07. He had recorded multiple shots in only eight games this season prior to last night. He averaged 1.44 shots per game, a drop from his 1.62 per-game average from last season.
Several adjustments have played a factor in Staal's scoring slump. He has worked as a center most of this season after playing on the wing last year. Also, he is no longer skating alongside Evgeni Malkin, who assisted on 11 of Staal's 22 non-shorthanded goals last season.
Even though he was a minus-6 player with a 3.8 shooting percentage, Staal had the backing of his coach, who sees him "in more of a defensive role."
"He is a good defensive forward," Therrien said. "He surprised a lot of people with his offensive numbers. I was not expecting that.
"We would like him to have more goals, but he is working hard. I am not worried about him at all."
Good to see ya
The prospect of defenseman Ryan Whitney working the left point on the Penguins' first power-play unit was welcome last night.
Since leaving a game in Denver on Nov. 1 with a groin injury, the Penguins had gone 3 for 24 on the power play without one of their anchors on the point. Each of Whitney's three goals and four of his six points had come on the power play.
Malkin played after missing practice Friday with a sore knee.
He entered the game against the Flyers as the league-leader with 16 assists. Sidney Crosby was second with 15. Each player had recorded a point in nine consecutive games, with Crosby's streak extending to a career-best 15.
Crosby and Malkin had combined to record 29 points over the past nine games.
Around the boards
Left wing Jarkko Ruutu, center Tyler Kennedy and defenseman Alain Nasreddine did not dress. ... The Penguins were out-shooting opponents in the third period by 14 prior to last night. They had been out-shot in the first and second period by 40. ... Sidney Crosby's 24 points through 16 games matched his total from last season.
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