For the second year in a row, a member of the Staal family made a dramatic return from injury in time to play in the Winter Classic. Call it genetics, call it an HBO conspiracy, but either way, it’s great news for Rangers fans who get their assistant captain and top D-man, Marc Staal, back on the ice.
After announcing that Staal would in fact return Monday for the Classic, Head Coach John Tortorella stated he planned to work the previously concussed defenseman in slowly, starting him on the third defensive pairing with Stu Bickel. Here’s a closer look at how Staal looked in his season debut by the numbers:
6 Shifts, 3:40 of ice time
Staal jumped over the boards for the first time about two minutes into the game, and immediately faced pressure from the Flyers forwards as a rush down the right wing boards generated a shot on goal and a glove save for Henrik Lundqvist, who had a sensational first period.
It was his second shift, near the six-minute mark, where he seemed to clear another hurtle. Staal broke up a rush by Wayne Simmonds coming down the middle of the ice and Simmonds jostled, Staal a little bit in the process. It didn’t seem too severe, but Staal skated to the bench as play was whistled down and seemed to take a few seconds to gather himself, stretching on the ice between the whistles. (It looked like all systems go after that though.)
Though Tortorella hinted he’d try to limit Staal’s ice time, he wasn’t the low D-man in the minutes column, as Bickel only skated 3 shifts for 1:47 of ice time. That produced some shifting in the pairings, with Staal getting a go with his regular partner, Dan Girardi for a shift midway through the period. Staal finished the first paired with Anton Stralman at 4-on-4 and on the PK.
7 shifts, 5:55 of ice time
The second was pretty quiet for Staal, who didn’t seem to get too physical and didn’t seem to be up to his usual prowess, getting beat to the outside a couple of times.
On his second shift of the period, Simmonds beat him down the RW boards to the outside for a shot on Lundqvist that whistled wide. Claude Giroux made a similar move late in the shift but his centering pass slid harmlessly wide.
It seemed like the Rangers had a lot of trouble clearing the zone near the seven-minute mark, but Staal was on the ice for the Blueshirts’ best moment of the period. After Flyers’ second goal, Staal avoided a Simmonds-Danny Briere sandwich, then gets a plus-one when Mike Rupp scored his first goal.
7 shifts, 3:06 of ice time
Tortorella shortened his bench in the third, rolling his top two pairs pretty much exclusively, but Staal had a few standout moments, including a nice play at the 10 minute mark when he tied up Matt Read to stop a rebound opportunity on doorstep.
With 5:12 to play and Ryan McDonagh in the box for delay of the game, Tortorella sent Staal out on the PK alongside Girardi, and Staal disrupted Hartnell near the top of the crease, and it also looked like he may have blocked a shot. He closed out last 8 seconds of the penalty, during which he stopped Sean Couturier and worked him over a little along the boards.
20 shifts, 12:41 of ice time, plus-one
It wasn’t exactly a highlight reel return like Sidney Crosby or Giroux returned from their concussions, but just getting Staal back on the ice is a big win for the Rangers. He wasn't a liability though and he looked pretty comfortable (based on the view from the Citizen Bank Park press box, but didn’t seem to be anywhere near his usual all-star form. Baby steps though, likely with bigger strides to come in the days ahead.