Steve Zipay takes you inside the locker room, home and on the road, with the New York Rangers, and also writes about the NHL, off and on the ice.
Marc Staal's game is returning
What Marc Staal saw through his tinted visor didn’t really concern him. Columbus defenseman Nikita Nikitin was skating with the puck on the right side of his own zone, perhaps 80 feet away. Staal was on the left side of the Rangers zone.
Nikitin began to shoot, hesitated, took another stride, and whipped a wrister in Staal’s direction, apparently trying to get the puck deep.
Instead, the puck struck Staal on the right side of the head, and he fell to the ice. Mats Zuccarello immediately skated over. For anyone watching the incident in the second period of Thursday’s game, it was impossible to ignore a horrifying flashback from March, when Staal was struck by a deflected shot during a Flyers game, leaving him bleeding and with permanent damage in the right eye.
On Thursday Staal was hit above the right ear, but he got up and skated to the bench, played his next shift and 19:43 overall. “I’m not sure what [Nikitin] was doing,” Staal said after the Rangers beat the Blue Jackets 4-2. “He waited, waited and then he ripped it. I thought I could duck quick enough. It just frustrated me more than anything. It happens. I guess pucks are attracted to my face.”
After missing 27 games because of the injury, Staal spent the summer working out and waiting for the eye to heal and has played in all 16 games this season, with just one goal -- on the power-play in Phoenix on Oct. 3 -- an assist and is a minus-8.
Staal, 26, refuses to use any vision issues as an excuse, and his game is coming back. He had four shots on goal in Columbus and is a plus-3 in the past four games.
Under new coach Alain Vigneault’s system, the entire defense corps has had to shift their mindset, and the transition, while challenging, had led to the team allowing two or fewer goals in the past nine games. “We’re a lot more comfortable on the ice now,” said Staal. “We know what our roles are, what we’re doing in our end and off rushes.”
For Staal, who played in his 400th game on Oct. 31, his next point will be the 100th of his career, which has been short-circuited recently by injuries. He played just 46 games in 2011-12 after suffering from post-concussion symptoms. “Took me a while to get there,” he said.