As well as the New York Rangers have been playing of late, one of the bigger storylines for them this season has been the absence of defenseman Marc Staal from the lineup.
Staal has yet to play in a game this season as he’s still dealing with symptoms from a concussion sustained when he took a hit from his older brother, Eric Staal, last season.
With the Winter Classic set to get underway a week from Monday, on January 2nd, there now appears to be a chance Staal could return in time for the game against the Philadelphia Flyers, though it’s still a major question.
Staal was cleared for contact in practice and took part in the contact drills at Rangers practice on Monday. Obviously his conditioning still needs some work, but that is to be expected with any player dealing with most injuries for an extended period of time.
The return to contact in practice is just the first step, but it is a major one for Staal and the Rangers. Given the fact that he returned to those types of drills on Monday, he has almost a full week to attempt to work his way back into the lineup in time for next Monday’s Classic at Citizens Bank Park.
There’s no doubt that the Rangers could use Staal back in the lineup, not only because of the fact that he’s their best defenseman, but the bigger fact that their blue line has been decimated by injury. Michael Sauer has been out since taking a nasty hit from Dion Phaneuf and Steve Eminger is out at least two months with a separated shoulder.
As NHL.com’s Dave Lozo points out, Staal’s situation is similar to his brother Jordan Staal last season. Jordan Staal hadn’t played in a game prior to the Penguins’ Winter Classic matchup against the Capitals, but managed to play in the game.
Of course, dealing with a concussion is very different from dealing with the hand injury that Jordan Staal had last season. Still, there is hope that Marc Staal could return to the Rangers in time for the outdoor affair, though I doubt too many would be shocked if it takes him just a bit longer to return.