Despite the magnitude of his return, defenseman Marc Staal avoided some of the spotlight and scrutiny in his first game back from post-concussion symptoms. Overshadowed by the enormity of Monday's Winter Classic game between the Flyers and Rangers -- played in front of over 46,000 people in Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park -- Staal was able to shed the anxiety of his comeback with the shield of the spectacle.
That wasn't so much the case Thursday for Staal, who played his second game this season following a ten-month absence from action in the Rangers' 3-2 OT win over the Panthers. The 24-year-old blue-liner, who played 12:51 -- only 1:25 after the first two periods -- admitted he still has a good deal of work to do to regain his standing as anchor of the team's blue line.
"It kind of felt like my first game back being in normal surroundings again," Staal said. "A little bit of rust there, but we'll try to move forward."
Coach John Tortorella said he will continue to use Staal in the 11 to 14 minutes range on the team's defensive pair with Stu Bickel as he acclimates. Tortorella said he may begin to use him as the fifth defenseman should he shorten the bench, but wants to set realistic expectations for the player.
"Staalsie's got some work to do. He made some good plays, but the timing, the speed, there's a number of things. It's gonna take quite a bit of time for him," Tortorella said. "When a player misses [training] camp, it's a hard thing to catch up so we have to be really careful there and try to help him along here and not give him too much at once."
Staal, who led the team last season with an average of 25:44 in ice time, said he has no reason to believe he can't play in back-to-back games Friday against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.