Many thought he would be out for the season — or at least the vast majority of it — but on New Year’s Eve, Marc Staal is expected to return to the New York Rangers‘ lineup. He will have only missed ten games and his return comes not a moment too soon.
With the continued struggles of Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi still an albatross for the Rangers, the return of Staal is welcome news. And the team needs him to be a top-flight defenseman right now.
If Staal can stay healthy and be the shutdown, stay-at-home defenseman he is supposed to be it will take a great amount of pressure of Ryan McDonagh. McDonagh is carrying the Ranger defensive corps on his back right now and seems to be the only one having a good season. Staal needs to assume the role that Girardi played as McDonagh’s defensive partner for the last two years as Girardi may either be traded or simply not reach that level again. A top shutdown pair will make the Rangers dangerous going forward.
Odds are that the Ranger defensive depth will be compromised regardless of whether or not Del Zotto and Girardi are traded. Their poor play almost requires Staal to step up. If he doesn’t then the Rangers’ defense will be a major weakness for the rest of the season.
This is why the Rangers need Staal more than ever. One man playing acceptable defense is not going to do the job. Two or more will, and right now Staal seems to be the only one capable of performing at a high level.