Staal runs cold without Cole

Eric Staal has struggled in the absence of his old running mate. (MARTIN CHEVALIER/QMI Agency

Eric Staal has struggled in the absence of his old running mate. (MARTIN CHEVALIER/QMI Agency

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:10 PM ET

MONTREAL - When the Carolina Hurricanes lost power winger Erik Cole to the Montreal Canadiens, who knew they were also losing a top centre?

Eric Staal has struggled in the absence of his old running mate.

Now the all-star centre -- who was a league-worst -17 going into Wednesday night's game against Cole and the Habs -- has been shifted to wing to try to get him going.

Staal has just eight points in 18 games this season.

Staal has averaged .90 points a game during the six-plus seasons when he and Cole have been teammates.

In 2008-09, when Cole spent the bulk of his season with the Edmonton Oilers, Staal had 50 points in 65 games. When the Hurricanes reacquired Cole in March 2009, Staal had 25 points in the last 17 games.

With Cole on his team, Staal has averaged almost a point a game.

Without him, it drops to 0.69.

"He's definitely a part of my success and it goes vice versa. I think the speed he brings to the game for my game opened the ice up," Staal said Wednesday. "Defencemen are intimidated by that speed because he can really burn you if he gets a head of steam down the wing. For me, it opened the ice up a little bit more. He's not an easy guy to simulate, but we're continuing to jell together and try to find different ways to find offence."

Staal was shifted to wing a couple of games ago with Brandon Sutter at centre.

Staal said he had little choice but to be open-minded when coach Paul Maurice suggested the change.

"It has felt comfortable, more so than I thought. At the point I was at, I was willing to try whatever. When you're minus a bunch and you're not contributing on the offensive side, it's frustrating.

"You're doing all you can, but it doesn't seem to be happening. It was a different look and it has been pretty good so far. I've felt more comfortable and I'm liking who I'm on the ice with so it has been good."

Maurice looked at Staal playing on the wing with Team Canada at the Olympics and figured it was an opportunity to accomplish a couple of things. The first was to give Staal a different look, but also to put Sutter in a front-line role and see if he can go with it (not to mention it gives the 'Canes more options in the faceoff circle).

"We've seen it work in the Olympics before. Mind you it's a lot for Brandon Sutter, to ask him to be Sidney Crosby, but Brandon Sutter is our guy right there. They've played well together and they seem to be developing a little bit of chemistry.

"It was for Eric Staal, but the byproduct here is we think we're going to push a young super player into becoming better."

So, other than Cole changing countries again, what is the solution for Staal?

"It's hard to put a finger on," he said. "It has been tough. There hasn't been a lot of room. I just feel a lot of nights you're getting opportunities, but not those Grade A chances that you want. I'm getting guys in my face quite often, but those are the things you try to work through and battle through and find that open ice. I've got to do a better job of that."

Cole, meanwhile, has been playing a more significant role with the Habs as the season has progressed even if his numbers are only slightly better than Staal's. The Canadiens have been small up front since they last won a Stanley Cup, it seems, and Cole (6-foot-2), coupled with the emergence of Max Pacioretty (also 6-foot-2) has given the club a different look on the wing.

Cole, who signed a four-year, $18-million free agent deal in the summer, has just eight points in 17 games, but four goals and three assists during his past 10 games.

Hey, at least he's only minus-3.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


Videos

Photos