Erik Cole has missed five of seven games. Joni Pitkanen has also missed five. There is little doubt that the absence of those two players has adversely affected the scoring output of the Carolina Hurricanes. And the lack of scoring is a concern.
The Canes have already been shutout twice this young season, while they were only shutout once in 82 games last year. They have only scored more than two goals in one game of seven so far, and that was against a Florida team coming off a week's break after two games in Europe.
It seems that Pitkanen has returned to the fold, (although he missed practice Sunday), and the powerplay should start to improve now that he can help to quarterback it. But leading goal scorer and face of the franchise, Eric Staal has missed several practices in a row and there is little doubt that some type of injury is affecting his play. How bad is the injury? No one is saying.
Needless to say, Eric Staal is important to the success of the Carolina franchise. As he goes, the team goes. The Hurricanes were 22-3-2 last year when he scored a goal and 23-27-5 when he didn't.
While he could definitely be doing better, it does not seem that playing an injured Staal is necessarily hurting the club. The center has had some of the team's best scoring chances in the last two games, but he has not been able to finish them. He just has two goals and two points so far this season, but he did just score a goal in Tampa Bay three games ago, so he is not riding a prolonged scoreless streak.
The coaching staff probably feels that Eric Staal at 70% is a better than any other option they have right now. But is it better for the player or for the team in the long run to keep playing him at 70 or 80%?
Would Staal be more effective later if he took a couple of games off and came back refreshed? Does he keep re-aggravating his injury every game while pushing himself, playing at less than 100%? The rumor mill says that he has a groin issue and a groin injury can be a nagging problem for a prolonged period of time if it does not get enough rest. The Canes have been resting him during practices, but he is still playing about 20 minutes a night in games.
There is no questioning his heart and mental toughness. He has played in 343 consecutive regular season games, the longest, or second longest active streak in the NHL. Just recently, he had 20-30 stitches in his ear after he took a puck to the side of his head and still came back to finish a game which was already out of hand in Boston.
But should this be like a Brind'Amour situation where he is told to take a night or two off?
Another thing to keep in mind, if you do bench Staal, who plays in his place? Michael Ryan has been injured and was recently placed on the Injured Reserve. Probably the best option would be to recall Brandon Sutter.
A reader posed the question to me yesterday, should Staal still be playing at less than 100%? My honest answer is that I don't have enough information about the nature of the injury to make a judgement. Bottom line, I think we have to trust the coaching staff, trainers, and the player himself to make the proper decision.
But what do you think? I believe fans have a variety of opinions about this so I will create a poll and see what the majority has to say. If you do not see your exact opinion listed as an option on the poll, feel free to leave your opinion in the comments.