As the two-year anniversary of the trade that brought him to the Hurricanes approaches, Jordan Staal is finally establishing his comfort zone in Carolina.
The 25-year-old center has two goals, five assists and a plus-five rating in his last four games, easily his most productive four-match stint since joining the 'Canes 114 games ago.
After recording the opening goal last Friday night and two assists in last Saturday's comeback attempt, Staal buried the game-winning goal to down the Rangers on Tuesday and assisted on both the game-tying and game-winning goals versus Buffalo on Thursday.
His line with Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty is clicking, too. After several games of gaining familiarity since its inception on Mar. 2 in Anaheim (per ShiftChart.com), the Semin-Tlusty-J. Staal trio has accumulated six goals in four games. The line's hot streak was highlighted by a 26-5 on-ice shot-attempt pummeling of the Sabres.
Staal is, at last, playing with same physical presence and power forward confidence that formerly made him so successful in a third-line center role.
He's been credited with at least three hits in four of the last five games and 17 in total over that span; with Tuomo Ruutu now departed, Jordan Staal is taking over Carolina's checking niche—and, perhaps sequentially, his scoring is also increasing.
Update, Mar. 15: Jordan Staal assisted on Semin's third-period goal on Saturday in Boston, extending his point streak to five consecutive games. Staal also led the 'Canes with 14 wins on 23 faceoffs to improve his faceoff percentage to 72.9 percent over the last two games.
This stretch of prolific production has been a long time coming for Staal.
The 6'4" center was traded from Pittsburgh to Carolina in June 2012 to much fanfare, then tallied points in nine of his first 11 games in the red and white. Since, the journey to stability has been a bumpy and discouraging one.
With an ever-changing cast of linemates and exceedingly high expectations, Staal appeared doomed to under-satisfy in Raleigh. He entered last Saturday's game against the Rangers with just one goal, two assists and a minus-11 rating in his last 18 appearances.
|Jordan Staal versus Brandon Sutter by Points per Game|
|Team||Jordan Staal||Brandon Sutter|
|Carolina Hurricanes||0.451 PPG||0.374 PPG|
|Pittsburgh Penguins||0.575 PPG||0.363 PPG|
|Change Since Trade||-0.124 PPG||-0.011 PPG|
|NHL.com Stat Database|
Then, suddenly, something changed.
Through the considerable help of Semin's flashy playmaking, Tlusty's opportunism and perhaps the pseudo-relief of vanished playoff aspirations, Jordan Staal began to light up the ice and the scoreboard.
Staal has not only had the most fruitful stretch of his Carolina career these past four games, he has been Carolina's best player—better than brother and captain Eric Staal, better than savior defenseman Andrej Sekera, better than abruptly revived goaltender Cam Ward.
Is the past week simply a periodic upturn in Jordan Staal's typically fluctuant production? Or is he finally learning how to thrive in a 19-minutes-a-night, top-six role?
The jury is still out.
But, if nothing else, the past four matches have provided the clearest image so far of Staal's potential stardom.