Staal stars offensively and defensively

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
11:18
PM ET
NEW YORK -- Rangers coach Alain Vigneault heaped praise upon defenseman Marc Staal prior to Friday's 4-1 win over the Islanders, talking at length about how well he has played recently.

Staal was due for more accolades following the team's third consecutive win -- second straight against the Islanders -- as he finished the night with a pair of assists.

[+] EnlargeKyle Okposo, Marc Staal
Christopher Pasatieri/Getty ImagesMarc Staal had two assists in Friday's win over the Isles.
He picked up the first on Brian Boyle's equalizer in the second and executed a beautiful cross-ice feed to Derick Brassard for the go-ahead goal in the third.

"He's done a hell of a job lately," Boyle said. "Especially the last three games."

Staal was particularly stout during the team's Stadium Series sweep in the Bronx, but it's not just his defensive sturdiness that has him at the top of his game.

He's chipping in offensively as well, making reads with the puck and joining the play when needed.

"Since Christmas, coming back off the injury, I felt better," said Staal, who was sidelined with a concussion for 10 games in December. "I just felt more confident and comfortable on the ice. I've been able to make the plays I am used to making."

Staal, who mans the second pairing with Anton Stralman, has been a pivotal piece on the Rangers' back end for years, though he has endured an unfortunate rash of bad injury luck the past two seasons. Last season, he was limited to just 21 games because of a harrowing eye injury. The previous year, Staal missed more than half the season with a concussion.

Prior to the game, Vigneault said Staal was playing his best stretch of hockey since he's taken over behind the bench.

"He seems to be more comfortable," Vigneault said. "He's protecting the puck real well, and he's moving it and showing a lot of poise with it. I am hoping that it continues because he has been really solid back there for quite some time now."

After lauding the 27-year-old blueliner in his postgame news conference Wednesday night, Henrik Lundqvist said he paid Staal extra attention Friday night. He was pleased with what he noticed.

"He's making good decision all over the ice," said Lundqvist, who finished the night with 38 saves. "He made some good plays defensively and offensively tonight. He's playing a big part for us right now, and it's fun to see."
Katie Strang covers the NHL for ESPN.com. She is a graduate of Michigan State University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
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