Published on April 17th, 2012 | by Brian Zagorac0
2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Time is Now for Jordan Staal
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, widely recognized as two of the greatest hockey players in the world, are about to bring the hammer down on the Eastern Conference this upcoming postseason.
The man in charge of stopping the “two-headed monster” will be Philadelphia Flyers Head Coach Peter Laviolette.
Laviolette will not only attempt to stop the 1-2 punch of Crosby and Malkin, but also match them on the scoreboard. He will give the nod to starting center and the league’s third leading scorer Claude Giroux.
Enter: Jordan Staal.
More often than not, Penguin’s third-line center Jordan Staal will be called upon to shut down Giroux, who has 38 points in 40 career playoff games. Laviolette will take every chance he gets to pit his top line of Giroux, Scott Hartnell (37 goals in the regular season), and future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr against the Penguins’ bottom two lines.
Staal, known for his strong two-way game, was on a great scoring pace this year before missing games due to injury, yet still posted a career high 50 points.
However, he has faded slightly since the return of Sidney Crosby on March 15 and has only scored three goals since then. But in the playoffs, Staal will not be asked to carry the load offensively. More importantly, it will be who he keeps from scoring and when he himself scores that will prove invaluable.
Staal, a one-time Selke trophy finalist for the NHL’s best defensive forward, needs to shake off whatever it is that has gotten to him and his game since 87’s return.
Claude Giroux is a rare talent who can embarrass a defenseman on the transition and will also outwork him in the corners. If he can stymie Giroux and his linemates, it will have an immeasurable impact on the series.
Staal will have one huge advantage while defending Giroux: size. Jordan (6’4, 220) needs to eat up space with an active stick and push the young Flyer around. It won’t be easy, but as Giroux goes, the Flyers go.
Giroux’s ability to move the puck and open scoring chances for his teammates may be second only to Crosby.
Staal’s tougher challenge will be taking away those passing lanes with his huge reach. Giroux is a playmaker who only needs a half-second window to change a game. If Staal can step up and knock Giroux off his game, he will handcuff Hartnell and Jagr in the process as well.
Can he do it? Staal seems to have a knack for scoring timely goals and played the best all-around hockey of his career this year while healthy. But for right now, his best attributes will be his defensive prowess and skills in his own end.
When the Penguins won the Cup in 2009, Staal seemed like just another piece to the puzzle: good, but not great; necessary, but not invaluable (minus-16 in 67 career playoff games).
If Pittsburgh is going to get past Philadelphia and raise 34.5 lbs. of silver this spring, Staal will have to raise his own game in the process.