Staal scored a season-high three goals in his first game since becoming Carolina's captain and the Hurricanes beat the Atlanta Thrashers 5-2 on Thursday night for a rare road victory.
"It was kind of neat to start off this way," Staal said.
The Hurricanes were last in the NHL with 35 points and had lost three straight when Staal took over as captain Wednesday for Rod Brind'Amour.
"It's a challenge," said Staal of his new role. "We've had great leadership here for a long time. I'm excited for the opportunity to learn from a great captain who won us a Stanley Cup."
Brind'Amour led the team to its only Stanley Cup in 2006.
"I hope to keep adding onto this record for many years to come," Ward said.
The Hurricanes took only their fifth win in 24 road games.
Staal and the Hurricanes grabbed the momentum early. The 25-year-old All-Star center scored on a pass from Jussi Jokinen to open the scoring 3:31 into the game.
The Hurricanes stretched the lead to 4-0 with power-play goals by Sergei Samsonov, Jokinen and Staal.
Jokinen was awarded his goal after an officials' review showed the puck crossed the line before it was kicked out of the net by Ron Hainsey.
The goals by Jokinen and Staal in the first 3 minutes of the second period left the Hurricanes 3 for 3 on the power play.
Staal's third goal came with 44 seconds remaining in the third period after the Thrashers pulled goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who stopped 16 shots.
"Our goaltender was good, our special teams were real good and that's the difference in the game," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. "Good leadership and good goaltending tonight."
Staal will represent Canada in the Olympics. General manager Jim Rutherford said Wednesday that Staal "is the player around whom the team will be structured."
Added Ward after the game: "It feels good. Staal was a good choice."
The 39-year-old Brind'Amour, who had been the captain since 2005, was demoted to alternate captain.
The Thrashers were stopped in each of their four chances with a man advantage in the third period, leaving them 0 for 6 for the game. Carolina scored three goals on four power plays.
"On special teams, I don't want to use the word horrific, but that's the first thing that comes to my mind," Thrashers coach John Anderson said. "Our power play isn't generating a lot."
Ilya Kovalchuk, who was stopped on six shots, said the Thrashers "had a lot of chances tonight, but couldn't score. ... We have to work harder on the power play and get the puck to the net."
Anderson said he may have to "dumb it down a bit" on power plays to "put some grit in front of the net and pound away."
The Thrashers began the day only one point out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
"This was a huge game for us," Kovalchuk said. "But we have a lot of games ahead of us and if we play with the right intensity, hopefully things will go out way."
The Thrashers placed D Christoph Schubert on injured reserve with a knee injury he suffered in Saturday's win at Carolina. ... Carolina took its first win in the season series following two home losses to Atlanta. ... The Thrashers have been outscored 51-35 in the first period. ... Samsonov played in his second game after missing seven games with an upper-body injury. ... Ward started his 19th straight game. He improved to 9-3 at Philips Arena. ... Attendance was 10,472.