Game 4 matchup: Eric Staal vs. Oilers' power play
EDMONTON, Alberta -- The two might not seem to go hand in hand, but Eric Staal and the Edmonton Oilers' power play seem due. Which one will prevail in Game 4? Here's a look.
Tied with teammate Cory Stillman for the NHL playoff scoring lead with 22 points, Staal has now gone six games without scoring and is minus-4 over that period.
His ice time is down, as well, although coach Peter Laviolette said that's more a function of spreading ice time throughout his bench in games in which the Canes have held leads.
While he was dominant in the early part of the playoffs, driving the net and scoring crucial goals for the Hurricanes, he has been less involved in the prime scoring areas against Edmonton.
Laviolette, nonetheless, said he has "a tremendous amount of confidence and faith in him that, if we need to win a game he can be a guy that gets it done for us. He's been that guy all year."
One sure sign that Staal's play has dropped off is that he isn't seeing a full dose of Edmonton defenseman Chris Pronger, who has been matched up more closely with the top-scoring line of captain Rod Brind'Amour, Stillman and Justin Williams.
"He's maybe the guy we worry about most carrying the puck through the neutral zone and we have to do a good job of slowing him down," Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish said.
Staal continues to play on the Canes' power play, often playing the point and trying to sneak in toward the goal for cross-ice passes. But the Oilers have shut that down so far in the finals.
"Obviously, he's our best player and we'd love to see him light the lamp," added Brind'Amour. "I go by the theory you can't hold a good guy down too long. He's going to break out."
Staal insists he's not feeling the pressure being a 21-year-old star who's two victories from a Stanley Cup.
"I want to be better obviously," Staal said. "I think the games are just tighter. I don't think there's anything specific that they're doing. The bottom line, I have to play better."
Just as a return to form by Eric Staal would be welcome relief to the Carolina Hurricanes, any semblance of form from the snake-bit Edmonton power play would be a welcome relief to the Oilers.
The Hurricanes have allowed just one power-play goal on 20 chances through the first three games of the finals, and if that continues the Oilers' comeback trail will be made that much more difficult.
Included in the power-play failures have been several extended two-man advantages.
"They have good, active sticks. They block shots, they are much like we are and they work hard," said Oilers forward Ethan Moreau.
Asked Sunday if he could talk about Edmonton's power play, coach Craig MacTavish drew laughs from reporters when he declined. "No. Absolutely not."
Finally relenting, MacTavish said the power-play unit is working diligently to overcome its problems. "I have never seen a group of guys so committed to turning it around," the coach said.
MacTavish credited Carolina's defense with identifying the Oilers' threats with the man advantage and taking them away. Specifically, the Canes have pressured Chris Pronger and, to a lesser degree, Jaroslav Spacek, who possess the two big shots on the power play.
"We need to work some low plays and work some slot plays to try to back them off," Pronger said.
One adjustment MacTavish tried to make was using center Michael Peca on the second power-play unit. MacTavish also removed young defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron, a fixture on the second unit through most of the playoffs, from the Game 3 lineup and reintroduced veteran Dick Tarnstrom, who will assume some power-play duties, as well. Tarnstrom was acquired from Pittsburgh at the trade deadline.
"I think that his style of play maybe fits this series a little bit more than it would have in the Anaheim series or the San Jose series," MacTavish said.