Originally posted on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 1/8/12

NEW YORK - JANUARY 25: Marc Staal #18 of the New York Rangers skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against on January 25, 2010 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Penguins defeated the Rangers 4-2. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Defenseman Marc Staal knew he was up for a challenge when returning to the Rangers lineup for the first time since last April on Monday during the 2012 NHL Winter  Classic in Philadelphia. As a professional hockey player, you can do everything in the world to get yourself mentally and physically prepared in practice and in the weight room, but nothing compares to the feel of a game or the stress it will put your body through. Staal understood and while there is still much work to be done, he's made exceptional progress in his first three games of the season. 

It was obvious that in the game against Philadelphia, Staal clearly was not the same shutdown defenseman the team relied so heavily on all throughout last season - which is why he played through a concussion for most of 2011 in the first place. Marc's timing on many plays was off, he wasn't keeping up with the opposition's top forwards and he definitely was slightly hesitant to get involved physically. That, though, was expected and considered part of the process in his ongoing recovery. 

Marc had 12:41 of ice time in that first game, which made up a total of 20 shifts. He played just ten seconds more in his second game of the season, which was on Thursday at Madison Square Garden against the Florida Panthers. Head coach John Tortorella stated from day one that he would slowly work Staal in, which is the best way of going about it especially after seeing what's gone on with Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

Staal, though, has been on a much quicker pace than the coaches expected he would, though, and we saw that in his most recent outing in Pittsburgh on Friday. He received 15 minutes of ice time in that one, in which he was handed bigger responsibilities and saw a little more of the opposition's faster players. Staal held up very well and even was engaged physically, before and after the whistle, multiple times throughout the night. He even threw one of his heavy body checks in the neutral zone during the third period, which was the first we've seen from him since his return. 

“He’s handled himself very well since he’s been back. He was our best defenseman last year. Dan Girardi has been a rock for us back there this year, but we still look at Marc as our top guy and it won’t be too long until he gets back to the level we’re accustomed to.” - Brandon Dubinsky to the NY Post

Staal has been placed on the third pairing with Stu Bickel to this point, and so far they've worked well together with Bickel being a very talkative player out on the ice. Bickel's vocals, coupled with his on-ice awareness, have dramatically made Staal's job out there easier. Again, another smart coaching move by Tortorella that's gone a long way. 

It may be a while until Staal is back at the top of his game and ready to jump into the top two pairings on defense, but he's rapidly returning to form, and the back-to-back this past week helped him out a lot...

“I felt a lot better [Friday] than the night before, my energy level was better. I’ve got that sore, training-camp feeling going now, but I’m starting to get into it.”

“I’ve never played 13 or 15 minutes in a game before, and it is difficult. But right now, those minutes seem like a lot more.” - Staal to the NY Post

It seems like Staal and the coaches are very much on the same page here, and I think as long as that stays constant, he will be back to his normal self quicker than many expected. The fact that the Rangers have been so successful without Staal this season has enabled Tortorella to ease Staal back into things and not immediately force him into situations that he may not be ready for. 

“I think that’s what has to be done,” Tortorella said. “We have to go through the process. With him missing [training] camp and so many games, we’re going to slowly go about it. Maybe we’ll add [minutes] and sometimes maybe we’ll take away, depending on how the process goes.”

GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Cam Newton explains why he did not dive on fumble

George Karl’s agent rips Kings, wants broadcaster reprimanded

WATCH: Popovich has funny reaction to New Hampshire results

Suns vets pull packing peanut prank on rookie Devin Booker

Teammate gives Manning final completion ball from Super Bowl

Report: Ole Miss Football cited in 13 of 28 department violations by NCAA

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Larry Sanders to consider NBA comeback after other interests stabilize

The NCAAB power rankings

SEC begins crying foul over Jim Harbaugh’s spring break plans at Michigan

Marc Gasol reportedly out indefinitely with broken foot

Patriots waive Montee Ball despite never officially re-signing running back

Chicago White Sox: Impact of Mat Latos signing

Clemson LB has great response to NFL draft analyst's criticism

Former Aggies QB Kyle Allen reveals culture problems at Texas A&M

WATCH: Roy Williams collapses during game vs. BC

Panthers TE Greg Olsen shaves off his playoff beard

Derek Fisher thanks Knicks in statement

Miami Heat to honor Shaq by retiring his number 32

Oakland Raiders release Nate Allen

B.J. Penn announces he will return at UFC 197

Bring back the Dunk Contest

Michael Jordan’s rep comments on the crying meme

10 NBA teams that could be active at the trade deadline

‘The X-Files’ takes a shot at the Philadelphia 76ers

Ranking the top 50 NFL players slated to become free agents

NHL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

The NCAAB power rankings

Report: Kings to keep coach George Karl

Was Alain Vigneault right about NHL's lack of punishment towards Wayne Simmonds?

Report: Knicks fire coach Derek Fisher

The best and worst commercials from Super Bowl 50

Best and worst from Super Bowl 50

Six best plays from Super Bowl 50

Eli doesn't look thrilled as Peyton wins Super Bowl

Did Beyonce almost fall down during Super Bowl halftime show?

Curry to serve as drummer for Panthers

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker