Naturally, after the prolonged absence through concussion Marc Staal needed some time to get back in to game shape and find his rhythm on the ice once more. Recently, there has been some signs Staal is getting back to being the quality defenseman that he is, however progress has been slow.
Staal isn’t playing as physically as normal, isn’t taking shots when the opportunity arises and isn’t using the puck effectively. Staal’s passing ability in previous seasons, while not elite, was underrated. Above all though, Staal has been tentative, particularly along the boards and his decision making hasn’t been as sharp as we have grown accustomed to. How long is long enough to ease your way back? Is 20 games an expected time frame?
It goes without saying that a Rangers team with Marc Staal in his All Star form is a scary animal for any team in the East playoffs. Staal makes it a team with effectively three quality shutdown defenseman (alongside Girardi and McDonagh) and that isn’t factoring in the possible return of Mike Sauer. With Staal in form, with the Vezina winning Lundqvist behind him, this team has the stingy and deep defense to go very, very far. Even with a sputtering powerplay and inconsistent offense.
Recent signs have started to show progress however. We’ve seen aggression come out of Staal recently that isn’t normally his calling card. Usually a cool customer, Staal seems to be gaining an edge which, full form allowing, could make him an even better player. The past couple of games have seen Staal improve and with a career low average ice time you have to assume there is plenty of gas in the tank for Staal – and room for improvement.
Staal should be the Rangers biggest addition during the stretch. Yes, he’s already here but the Staal that routinely shutdown the likes of Alex Ovechkin is not quite. Staal’s return to prominence is why Rangers fans should be excited about this team’s chances come April. In the coming games Tortorella should begin to throw Staal into more and more pressure situations and give him more ice time. He may make the odd mistake but it’s the best way for him to get back to his old level.
You want another benefit of Staal being given more by Tortorella? Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh should by default get less ice time which should help keep them fresh(er) for the playoffs. Imagine a top four of Staal – Girardi – McDonagh and Sauer in the playoffs; all healthy, all fresh, all in form. That’s a scary thought for any team to consider.