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Eric Staal’s style of play ain’t pretty, but it works

The veteran is finding his ways to contribute to the Canadiens’ success this post-season.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Vegas Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

“The best way to predict your future is to create it.” Those words were spoken by Abraham Lincoln. Although the context here may be less weighty a subject, the words ring just as true.

Few gave this Montreal Canadiens team a chance to win in Round 1 — some not even a single game. Montreal is now exactly (checks notes) one win away from the Stanley Cup Final.

All year long we’ve heard that the North Division is bad defensively because it lets in the most goals. But, it’s also the division with Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Leon Draisaitl, Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, Bo Horvat, and two Tkachuks.

My point is this: Montreal has been pitted against the top stars in the NHL all year long. Vegas is an interesting opponent because they have the best depth that we’ve seen so far, but their top six has once again failed to make a true impact on the series. With them out of the way, the bottom sixes have to battle it out for the win.

One member of Montreal’s bottom six I want to shine a light on is Eric Staal. He’s been having himself a heckuva playoffs so far, but last night he took it to a whole new level. He’s not the Eric Staal we remember of years past that could take a team on his back and dominate. Maybe he had to learn that lesson for himself after coming to Montreal.

He hasn’t followed the route of most veteran players who’ve transitioned to defensive specialists. This year he has had to figure out a way to continue being an offensive player but with few of the tools that made him so effective throughout his career.

And figure it out he did. Last night, at five-on-five, the Canadiens controlled 66.7% of the shot attempts while he was on the ice. To put this into context, the team overall only controlled 43.6%. Similarly with expected goals, the team controlled 61.0% with Staal on the ice and only 45.0% overall.

Even Vegas was paying attention to him. The player that they matched up against him the most was number-one defencemen Alex Pietrangelo. Staal kept his game simple and even notched one of the goals. That goal epitomized the quote, “I’m a slow walker but I never walk back.”

He didn’t get to the shooting area particularly fast, once he got the puck he didn’t shoot it particularly quickly, and he didn’t bother hiding his release. Instead, he took every extra millisecond he needed to pick his spot perfectly. He showed both patience and commitment. Had he panicked and just fired it off, there’s a very good chance Marc-Andre Fleury would have gotten it.

A true meat and potatoes goal from a player who’s embracing his new role.