Staal's injury accelerated McDonagh's development

Ryan McDonagh in action against the New Jersey

Ryan McDonagh in action against the New Jersey Devils during Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals at Madison Square Garden. (May 14, 2012) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

Playing with Dan Girardi because longtime defensive partner Marc Staal was sidelined with post-concussion issues at the start of the season sped up Ryan McDonagh's development as a top-pair defenseman, coach John Tortorella said Tuesday.

"[McDonagh] got so quickly into key situations because that injury accelerated his process," Tortorella said. "That may be a year down the road if we didn't have an injury. It certainly was out of necessity."

McDonagh, 22, who had played just 40 games in 2010-11, said losing Staal was unfortunate, but was "really ecstatic and knew how important it was for me and Danny to play well having Marc out."

Starting the season in Europe, the 28-year-old Girardi said, allowed no grace period and that immediate trust was critical. "It was kind of read off each other and talking on and off the ice about different things we could do," he said. "He's such a good skater, he makes my job easy. I'm more stay-at-home and get the puck up to the forwards, and he likes to get in the rush."

McDonagh's adjustment wasn't seamless. "I make mistakes and Danny's great at recovering and blocking a shot or disrupting an odd-man rush," he said. "I've learned a lot, how mentally tough he is, the hits he takes, the way he blocks shots."

Derek Stepan, who blocked Ilya Kovalchuk's power-play slapper at 12:29 of the first period Monday with his foot, didn't skate but will play Wednesday night. The big toe on was bandaged . . . Tortorella on why he doesn't always discuss individual players: "This isn't golf . . . You push every individual to be the best they can be. But you have to combine that within a team concept."

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