With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each missing the bulk of the second half of the season, the Penguins have clearly become less of an offensive force. Games with 2-1 scores were bound to become more common than 5-3 contests.
At almost the same exact moment Crosby left the lineup, Jordan Staal returned from foot and hand injuries which sidelined him for the first three months of 2010-11. Malkin was shut down roughly a month later.
Expectations have been immense on Staal from the moment he was drafted No. 2 overall in 2006. They grew even larger with Crosby and Malkin out of the lineup.
Many have been critical of Staal since then. Many have suggested he wasn't coming through in the clutch. Several even declared him as a bust considering he was such a high draft pick.
But few of those arguments were rooted in at least one fact.
Staal has stepped it up in terms of production.
In just 41 games this season, Staal has scored 30 points. That gives him a points per game average of 0.70, the highest of his career. A look at Staal's career numbers in terms of points throughout his five-year career:
If you break it down to just goals, Staal's production is right on par with his previous two seasons:
Obviously, you can't just look at stats and determine a players' value based on numbers. Staal has certainly provided his critics with moments of frustration. He gets plenty of scoring opportunities - such as a partial breakaway early in last week's showdown with the rival Flyers - which he fails to convert. And he is a significant component of a staggeringly inept power play. Being a former No. 2 overall pick, he's a large target.
But at the same time, Staal has a major role on a lockdown penalty kill which has prevented an unquantifiable amount of goals this season. And with the injuries to Crosby and Malkin, he has had to face more matchup against first and second defensive pairing instead of second and third third pairings. Additionally, the fact that he was mostly inactive for seven months following his foot injury in last season's playoffs can't be dismissed.
Ultimately, Staal has stepped up, albeit slightly. And any suggestion that he's anything but a vital member of a 100-point team with a chance to claim a division title, is not based in reality.
(Photo: Abelimages/Getty Images)