When the Penguins announced last week that scoring champion Evgeni Malkin would be out of the lineup for 2-3 weeks with a shoulder strain, it was seen in part as an opportunity for Jordan Staal to step into a larger role. And that's been true: Staal's averaged 23 and a half minutes in the two games that Malkin's been out. So far though zero points and a combined five shots on goal. The Penguins are going to need Staal to take the most of this opportunity to produce points.
Production hasn't always been a priority for the 21 year old. Behind Malkin and Sidney Crosby on the depth chart, the Penguins haven't always asked Staal for that big of a scoring role, as you can tell from some of his linemates. A shift in philosophy may have begun: last year Staal was playing 3:38 short-handed time (and was the only regular forward that played more than 2:40 per game in SH time). This young season Staal is averaging 3:05 SH ice-time on a regular unit, but other forwards have more than him (Matt Cooke - 3:17, Craig Adams - 3:11). It seems like the Pens are trying to shift Staal's minutes away from more of a shutdown to give him a chance to create more offense.
That coach Dan Bylsma was shifting Staal on occasion up to Malkin's line showed the Pens were willing to be flexible and catch some opponents in tough spots by shading Staal up and down the lines at any given time.
Slow starts, it should be pointed out, have been nothing new for Staal: in 2008-09 he had zero goals and three assists in October. The year prior Staal registered just one goal and one assist in October. Perhaps the road-swing will do Staal some good too, for whatever reason he's scored 43 of his career 66 goals (65%) away from Pittsburgh.
His role has gradually been changing, and now is the time the Penguins are leaning on Staal. It'll be interesting to see how he can respond to this opportunity to fill in some of the gaps with Malkin out of the lineup.