Staal's return gives the Rangers a much-needed lift
New York's young defensive leader arrives in the nick of time
The New York Rangers received an unexpected albeit pleasant surprise on Monday Night as 26 year old blue chip blue liner Marc Staal returned to the defensive rotation for the first time since suffering a severe eye injury back on March 5th.
Paired primarily alongside Anton Stralman, Staal logged 17:17 minutes of ice time, and although he skated to a -1 rating, his poise and presence not only rubbed off on young teammates Ryan McDonagh, John Moore and Michael Del Zotto, it lessened their collective load, never a bad thing when the opponent boasts the likes of Alexander Ovechkin.
Clock-eaters Girardi (22:58) and McDonagh (20:55) skated to their lowest ice-time totals of the Series, and as Staal overcame his early rink-rust, his presence was felt even moreso in the waning moments of a tense 4-3 Blueshirt victory.
As Staal gets his legs back under him, he must also learn to adjust his game to account for the impact his eye injury had on his vision. Whether his 20/20 vision ultimately returns remains to be seen (pardon the pun) but in the meantime he'll have to chase Ovechkin and the rest of the star-studded Capital Forwards with the blurry vision that is the by-product of the injury.
Given Staal's bounce back ability (concussion in 2012) and overall toughness, look for #18 to display the type of heart and grit needed to work though this setback and help the Rangers as they seek to extend their Series against the streaking Caps.