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Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Staal gets it going against Red Wings

Jordan Staal's extraordinary performance Tuesday night in Pittsburgh's 7-6 overtime victory over Detroit is the sort of thing that can vault a player and team to greater achievements the rest of the season.

Staal led Pittsburgh's comeback from a 5-2 deficit by scoring a hat trick in the third period and setting up Ruslan Fedotenko's overtime winner after stealing the puck from Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk at the blue line. What was nearly a demoralizing reaffirmation of how wide the gap is between the Stanley Cup champion Red Wings and the runners-up instead might end up being the turning point in the Penguins' season.

The impact of the comeback should last a long time, especially if it boosts Staal's confidence. The 20-year-old forward had a slow start to the season, with just two goals and three assists in 13 games before Tuesday night.

But he has been using his size more effectively lately at both ends of the ice, and he got in great position in and around the slot on all three of his goals against the Red Wings.

That good positioning, along with more shot to the net could lead to his connecting more like he did during his 29-goal rookie campaign rather than in his disappointing sophomore campaign, when he notched 12. Staal, who was plus-4 on the night, tied his season-high with five shots on goal.

"It's only one step," Staal told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "As long as I keep working the way I have been, I'm sure the puck will keep going in."

And don't forget the impact of playing in a contract year. Staal is sure to get a hefty raise with his next contract, but what's not certain is which team will be paying it. He'll be a restricted free agent next summer if the Pens don't get his signature on an extension before July 1.

At the time of this writing, Staal was owned in 35.7 percent of ESPN leagues. Watch for that figure to go up along with his offensive numbers in the coming weeks.

Ice chips:

Jiri Hudler
With 12 points in 14 games, Jiri Hudler is underowned in ESPN leagues.

Overlooked in the aftermath of Pittsburgh's stunning victory was a great performance by Detroit's Jiri Hudler, who put up a goal, two assists and a plus-1. The 24-year-old Czech is owned in just 10.7 percent of ESPN leagues, but his 12 points in 14 games deserve greater attention. … Johan Franzen scored a goal in his first game back after missing five games with a sprained left knee. The Mule has 34 goals in his past 41 games, including the playoffs. … Chris Higgins' first career hat trick included a short-handed goal in Montreal's 4-0 rout of Ottawa. … Canadiens goalie Carey Price stopped 28 shots for his first shutout of the season. … Habs captain Saku Koivu has 13 points in his past 12 games (five goals, eight assists). … Good news, bad news for owners of Daniel Briere: The Flyers forward scored for the fourth consecutive game -- and third in a row since coming back from abdominal surgery -- but he left during the second period of Philadelphia's 3-1 victory over the Islanders with a lower-body injury. Briere told The Associated Press the injury was unrelated to his surgery. … Strangely, the Flyers are 1-4-3 with Briere in the lineup, so any prolonged absence might be a boon for Philly goalies Antero Niittymaki and Tuesday's starter, Martin Biron, who stopped 35 shots against the Isles. … Calgary's Dustin Boyd scored two goals in the Flames' 4-3 victory over the Maple Leafs. Boyd, 22, benefited from joining Jarome Iginla's line with Curtis Glencross. … Maple Leafs left winger Jason Blake was a healthy scratch for the second time this season. He has just two goals and four assists in 14 games. … Predators goalie Dan Ellis faced 57 shots from the Sharks while picking up the victory in Nashville's 4-3 overtime win. … Devin Setoguchi had two goals, an assist and a team-high 10 shots for the Sharks. Setoguchi is second in the league in shots, one behind Calgary's Dion Phaneuf's 70. … Stars forward Jere Lehtinen made his season debut after missing the first 14 games of the season because of a groin injury and had a goal in Dallas' 3-2 shootout loss to Los Angeles.