Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
After years of battling injury, the Rangers welcomed back Marc Staal prior to the 2013-14 season in hopes that they could finally boast the high-powered defense corps they had worked so hard to put together.
It wasn’t too long ago that Staal was the darling prospect of the Rangers organization, nearly making the team as a teenager prior to the 2006-07 season. He proved to be worth the wait, though, as he burst on to the scene a year later and made a habit out of improving with every year that passed.
He and Dan Girardi formed one of the league’s best young defensive pairs, and they began to aggravate the league’s most potent offensive weapons on a nightly basis. Staal even cultivated an offensive side to his game, one which curiously came under the guidance of John Tortorella, who is, of course, notorious for sucking the creativity and fun out of the Rangers’ game.
But all changed after Staal was concussed by his brother Eric in February of 2011. Staal would go on to play the rest of the season, but it was revealed at its conclusion that he was battling post-concussion syndrome and that he would be out of commission for the foreseeable future.
Staal wouldn’t return to action until January 2, 2012, and he was a shell of his former self upon his return.
The following season in 2012-13, Staal took a puck to the eye and nearly lost sight in it. He would battle back to play a single playoff game before being forced to shut it down.
That brings us back to 2013-14. Staal struggled out of the gate but saw patches of positive play. He would eventually experience rough patches yet again, his career moving like a carousel.
That was until the playoffs began.
Staal has elevated his game yet again, and it’s one of the reason the Rangers were able to limit the scoring opportunities of both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Girardi and Ryan McDonagh may have been handed the tough tasks of shutting down the likes of Claude Giroux and Sidney Crosby—their opponents’ best players—but good hockey teams feature a balanced attack. Staal has done well to shut down the opposition’s depth, the likes of Wayne Simmonds, James Neal and even Evgeni Malkin, who would be a regular first-liner on every other team in the league.
Staal has been an integral part of the Rangers’ penalty-killing unit, blocking a total of 29 shots in the playoffs, including five in Game 6 of Round 2. He’s only registered three points, but his plus-six rating in the postseason tells us that he’s doing a great job of not only shutting down the opposition but contributing to the team’s overall push up the ice.
It’s great to see Staal back on top of his game after a tough few years, and if New York is to advance any further, he’s going to have to keep playing at a high level.