NEW YORK – Eric Staal returned to the Broadway stage Friday night feeling a lot better about his performance.
After a disappointing 20 regular-season games plus a scoreless five-game postseason with the Rangers after being traded from the Carolina Hurricanes, the Wild center faced his old team for the first time at Madison Square Garden while leading his new team in scoring.
Staal admits that’s very gratifying.
“I guess you could say a normal reaction,” Staal said. “It feels good to be playing well with this group that we have and it’s been fun.”
Staal has been quite the leader for the Wild, and he has had an uncanny knack for breakaways.
Of the dozen or so he has had, Staal has scored on two of his past three, including the shorthanded winner in Montreal.
“He reads the play very well, anticipates very well,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He can sense a turnover, and when he’s that quick and strong, he can ward off guys. You don’t think of him as a really strong guy, but at 6-4, 215 or whatever he is, he’s got the strength when guys are behind him to keep them behind them.”
It’s amazing how quickly Staal can fly up the gut. Why does he get so many? Staal laughs.
“Partly other guys making good plays and you’ve got to read the play as well and whether or not we have full control and when you know you can make a break for it and get a step,” Staal said. “Like in recent ones, I knew full well [Jason] Pominville and [Zach] Parise could make the pass.
“The goal against Florida, Zach was the low guy and I was late coming in the zone. I took a turn and noticed the D was really, really wide. If you look right away, the second we reversed it, I kind of stuck the D with an arm and I was already going. Pommer makes a great pass, and I had the step already and he’s in the dust.
“So it’s just reading plays. Sometimes you get them, sometimes you go stretches without them. But this year, I’ve had a lot more than the last couple years.”
Staal has been upset he hasn’t been awarded more penalty shots. He finally got one against Colorado, “and I was so excited, I threw a muffin. Brutal shot.”
“In my opinion, I’ve deserved penalty shots for another crack,” he said. “When you’re in the heat of it, you don’t think to fall. Plenty times I got a shot off, but I haven’t gotten the shot I wanted off because I’m being harassed.”
Gift comes early
Center Pat Cannone grew up in Bayport, Long Island, and grew up an Islanders fan, but he was excited to play his third NHL game against the Rangers at “the world’s most famous arena,” he said, Madison Square Garden.
“Christmas came early,” Cannone said.
His parents, Joanne and Stephen, sister, Casey, brother, Matthew, and wife, Natalie, all attended, and he left 25 postgame passes for family and friends.
Watching top pick
U.S. world junior captain Luke Kunin, the Wild’s 2016 first-rounder, won’t tip his hand about whether he thinks he’d sign with the Wild after his sophomore season at Wisconsin. He led the Badgers with 19 goals as a freshman and leads them again with 11 this season.
“I keep up with the Wild on Twitter and check scores and watch when I can,” Kunin said. “I know they’re pretty hot right now. I like to see that and hope it keeps up.
“As for me, I’m not really sure. Day to day, I’m just focused on what I can control, and right now that’s here with these guys and trying to win gold.”