Raleigh, N.C. -- Forwards Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes and Alexander Burmistrov of the Winnipeg Jets don’t have a lot in common, but right now they share one thing - a need to get back on track.
Staal and Burmistrov will meet Friday night when the Jets play the Hurricanes at the RBC Center and both players have struggled, leaving their respective coaches scrambling to find a solution.
Staal has just four goals and 10 points so far this season and he’s -16 on the plus-minus scale. Those are atrocious numbers for someone like Staal, who scored 31 goals and had 76 points last year.
“It was a tough start but I’m trying to leave that behind me and look forward to getting better every game,” Staal said Thursday after the Hurricanes practised. “It’s been better as of late. I feel a lot more comfortable a lot more confident out there, creating a lot more offence. I need a few to get to the back of the net to really get going but those chances are there and that’s the main thing for me to keep shooting, keep doing the same things and they’ll start to fall and I’ll start gaining some confidence in that respect.”
Carolina coach Paul Maurice said getting Staal going is critical for the Hurricanes, who got off to a good start but went through a bad stretch and are now 8-11-4.
“I think Eric is our team,” Maurice said Thursday. “When the focus is on one part of our game, or Eric’s game, we are going to struggle. We have got to be a better defensive hockey team. And i think in the last four games he has been much better in that department and our team’s been much better.”
Maurice said he juggled lines to help get Staal going, putting him on with Brandon Sutter and Chad LaRose. So far that has worked - Staal managed two assists in Carolina’s win over Toronto last week.
“There’s been an adjustment for him in finding the right people to play with him,” Maurice said. “Then the offensive part of it did become an issue for him and how he played the game. And to his credit I think he pulled back and did the right thing.”
As for Burmistrov, he started the year on fire, leading the Jets in points early in the season. He had seven points as of Oct. 25, but hasn’t done much since then and currently has four goals and 12 points. Jets coach Claude Noel cut back on Burmistrov’s playing time in Washington Wednesday, where the Jets lost 4-3 in overtime.
Noel won’t go into detail about why the 20-year old Russian has fallen off or why his playing time got cut.
“He’s a good young player,” Noel said Thursday after the Jets practised. “Basically what we’re doing is we’re coaching. Him and I have a relationship. It will continue and we’ll continue to try to make him the player we think he can be.”
Noel pointed out that Burmistrov has changed linemates, which could be factor. He started the season playing with Nik Antropov and Kyle Wellwood. That was the Jets most productive line early in the season, but Noel said the team was losing.
“He was going real good with Antropov for a while but we weren’t winning at that stage because of a lot of different reasons that had really nothing to do with one person,” Noel said. “You try to manage individuals in a group, you try to mange for the sake of the group.”
Burmistrov didn’t have much to say about his play, other than to express frustration.
“Certainly I’m disappointed but there’s nothing I can do,” he said. “That’s the coaches decision and we do whatever he say.”
Both coaches stressed the importance of Friday’s game. For the Jets, it’s a chance to reach .500 and put some distance between the Hurricanes.
“It’s a big division game again,” said Noel. “We’re tied, we’re tied in points. We’ve got two games in hand.”
For the Hurricanes it’s a chance to build on some recent success.
“We can say every game is the same and you play everybody the same. But everybody knows on their calendar the games they really feel they have to win and that’s the kind of game [Friday]” said Maurice.