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Eric Staal at center of Canes' struggles

RALEIGH, N.C. -- No one has been asked more about the Carolina Hurricanes' woes more than Eric Staal.

And those queries are almost always bound up in questions about Staal's own struggles.

At his best, Staal is one of the game's most dynamic centers. Powerful and skilled, he was a natural pick as the man to succeed Hall of Famer Ron Francis and Rod Brind'Amour, the ultimate team leader in Raleigh, as Hurricane captain. Still, Staal is facing his biggest challenge as a captain. There are fewer veterans in the room to help shoulder the burden as there were when he took on the "C." But whether you can draw a line from that to Staal's offensive struggles, it has been a forgettable first quarter of the season.

He is on this day among the first off the ice and is found alone in the locker room when asked about what he has learned from those two men, Francis and Brind'Amour, and about captaining a team through these treacherous waters.

"Doing your best to stay positive and bringing your work ethic," Staal said. "It's pretty much all you can do. And make sure you're doing that every day.

"Been through it a couple of times. Every team does. I think it's a matter of continuing to bring that work ethic and that drive and sticking together and working through it."

We spent the day with Staal when he had the Stanley Cup at the family home in Thunder Bay, Ontario, in the summer of 2006. These days, that August day seems like a long time ago.

After a two-assist performance in Sunday's 3-2 win over Toronto, Staal has just 10 points in 21 games and was a league-worst minus-16. The 27-year-old has just one goal in his past 15 games. He has scored just four times and just once at even strength.

For a Stanley Cup winner and a member of Canada's Olympic team in 2010, these are hard days.

"I naturally have always put a lot of pressure on myself," Staal said. "Sometimes you kind of make it harder on yourself than you want. You know I wanted to get off to a good start. Didn't happen. Didn't think I was playing bad but you're accumulating minuses and you're not feeling good about yourself. And then start to feel like you're getting better and you have a good game and you're still not producing and not getting points. So it can get frustrating; it can weigh on you."

He is the father of one and has another on the way. But when you are a leader and you are losing, there aren't many places to go to escape.

"I go home and it's tough to leave it at the rink," Staal said. "I think about things. You always want to try and be better. You always want to try and improve. You always want to try and think of things you can do better to try and help the team."

Head coach Paul Maurice quickly tries to fend off discussion that puts even more focus on Staal's play when discussing the team's ability to arrest their current slide.

"No, it comes from the coach. The bottom line. It's not on them," Maurice said.

"This is now the time, in the most heat, that it's not on the captain. It's not on the players; it's on me."

As for what Staal can do, Maurice says it's the same thing that every other player can do: Put their personal game aside and not try and make the next game "a breakout game."

"And he's done that," Maurice said.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.