GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Marc Staal spoke slowly and chose his words carefully on Friday. It was the first time he ever had to answer questions about being a healthy scratch in his 13-year NHL career.
“Obviously, I was upset, and pretty frustrated,” said Staal, who was scratched Tuesday in the Rangers’ most recent game. “You want to be in the lineup. You want to play. When I get that next opportunity, [I have] to make the most of it.”
The 32-year-old defenseman won’t get that opportunity when the Rangers face the Predators in Nashville on Saturday. Coach David Quinn said Staal again will sit, replaced for the second game in a row by 21-year-old rookie Ryan Lindgren.
“We talked at length today,” Quinn said. “He understands what he needs to do to get back in. He’s a guy that I really think will elevate his game . . . or at least I hope so. We need him. We need veterans and we need guys that have been in the league for a while, and I’m expecting him to get back to the level he needs to get to.”
Staal said he was “caught off guard” by the decision on Tuesday but now has a better idea of what he needs to do to get back on the ice.
“I think, generally, what it always comes down to is there’s obviously a reason why they decided to take me out,” he said. “Just don’t give them that reason. So it’s the way I’m going to look at it and just try not to look too much big picture and just play the way I know I can play and those decisions don’t have to be made.”
Said Quinn: “If he does what I know he’s capable of doing, he’s going to be in the lineup. We want to win hockey games. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s about.”
The Rangers had a rousing 4-1 victory over Tampa Bay without Staal in one of their best games of the season, but that doesn’t mean Quinn doesn’t want him back in there at some point for what he can bring to the team.
“I think he’s smart,” Quinn said. “I think when he’s playing well, he’s playing with an edge to his game. He’s a strong defender. He’s got good gaps. Good penalty-killer. Again, he’s as likable a guy as there is. He’s got a presence about him. Those are things that we need.”
Notes & quotes: Mika Zibanejad did not practice and will not play Saturday. The Rangers’ top-line center was injured on a hit by Boston’s Patrice Bergeron on Sunday. Quinn clarified that the “upper- body injury” was to Zibanejad’s neck and not his head . . . Alexandar Georgiev will start in goal against the Predators. “[Nashville is] not only a good team but an old team,” center Ryan Strome said. “It’s a team that knows how to play the game and plays the right way. It’ll be a good test.”