Pittsburgh sports fan are very passionate about their teams. However, sometimes this passion gets in the way of how they should actually view and criticize their team and the players that play for their team, especially when the Penguins lose.
Usually after a loss, Pens' goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury gets crushed by the fans because he's the easiest to blame. Other popular goats are Tyler Kennedy, Evgeni Malkin and Matt Cooke.
For some reason though, I've been hearing and seeing a lot of hate towards Pens' center Jordan Staal, and I can't figure out why. Even though the Penguins are winning, fourth place in the Eastern Conference, despite not having Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the lineup for months now, I continue to hear people complaining about Staal.
Yeah Staal isn't going to put points up on the board like Crosby or Malkin, that's not his role on the team. He also doesn't get paid like those guys. Staal makes a little over four million a year, while Crosby and Malkin both make over eight million a year.
Staal, who is only 22-years-old, is only in his fifth season in the league and is already considered one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL. He was even nominated for the Selke trophy last year, which is awarded to the best defensive forward in the league.
However, with Crosby and Malkin both out of the lineup, a lot of pressure has been put on Staal to score goals at a more consistent pace, fair or not, that's the situation. When Staal misses the net or doesn't come through on a scoring chance, the fans get extremely upset with him. Perhaps all this is due to his great rookie season when he scored 29 goals as an 18-year-old.
Not to mention that Staal's talent and potential is through the roof, and the fact that he was a top five pick in the 2006 NHL draft makes people want to see him flourish more offensively. The crazy thing is that's exactly what he's been doing the last few weeks.
Staal is currently riding a four-game point streak that has seen him tally seven points (3G-4A) over that span. Fact is, Staal has been an absolute workhorse for the Penguins since making his season debut on Jan. 1st, as he is skating a career-high 21 minutes per game, the ninth-best total among NHL forwards. Staal also has 25 points (10G-15A) over his previous 29 games—a 0.86 point-per-game clip. Those 25 points since Jan. 12th are the most on the team during that span and a team-high during Crosby and Malkin's absence.
Also, if you take Staal's current points per game (.86), and lay that out during a full 82-game season, then Staal would have been projected to have around 70 points, which would be a career-high for him.
You also have to consider how much Staal has been through this year, both physically and mentally. Staal missed the first 31 games of the season due to surgery and then broke his hand during a practice in December. Staal returned to the team just in time for the Winter Classic.
Finally, Penguin fans have to remember that Staal is never going to score like Steven Stamkos and Crosby do. However, he is a special player in his own right and would be a No. 1 center on a lot of teams in the NHL.
To call Staal overrated is just plain stupid. At this point, he's still underrated around the league. You also have to remember that he is just entering the prime of his career and hasn't reached his full potential yet, which is really scary for the other teams in the league and a really great for the Penguins and their fans.