ST. PAUL — Eric Staal’s absence during practice Monday, Oct. 7, was almost as conspicuous as his poor play so far this season.
To say Staal struggled against the Nashville Predators and the Colorado Avalanche last week would be putting it lightly. A year away from scoring 42 goals for the Wild, he was a step slow up and down the ice, looking more and more like a soon-to-be 35-year-old — though there might be a reason behind the slow start.
According to coach Bruce Boudreau, Staal hasn’t been 100 percent healthy, which would explain the maintenance day this week.
“I thought this was a good time for him to have a day off to get what’s ailing him completely better,” Boudreau said. “He’s going to be fine.”
It was a welcomed day off for Staal, who was back on the ice for Wednesday’s practice and vowed that the issue wouldn’t be a problem this season.
“Just a little grindy there,” he said. “It feels a lot better having that extra day. You don’t get days like that very often throughout the season. You need that sometimes. It was good for me to not skate with what I was dealing with. I feel a lot better now and I’ll be ready to go.”
Still, Staal wasn’t shy about the fact that he hasn’t been good enough so far. He called himself “brutal” after the season opener — a fair assessment considering the fact that he’s a team-worst minus-5 at the moment — and doubled down on his frustration this week.
“In this game confidence is huge and right now for me, obviously, it’s not overly high,” Staal said. “I did the right work I needed to this week to make sure I’m feeling better; now it’s about trying to get that confidence starting tomorrow and then building on it because we have a long way to go.”
Maybe a change of scenery will be good for Staal. He skated next to Marcus Foligno and Kevin Fiala for the first time this season during Wednesday’s practice, and Boudreau seemed hopeful about their potential heading into Thursday night’s game at Winnipeg.
“You sit there at home and think (about line combinations) and then come to work and apply it,” Boudreau said. “You just hope the thought process from night before works.”
As for Staal, it’s only been two games — and he’s been around the league long enough to know that sometimes all it takes is a good game for everything to click.
“You just have to refresh and come to work and be ready to compete and do those little things,” he said. “That will result in more confidence and better plays and all that good stuff. Just keep working through it and try to get better every day.”