Marc Staal has returned.
John Tortorella announced before the Rangers’ 3-2 Winter Classic win over the Flyers Tuesday afternoon that the Rangers’ All-Star defenseman would make his 2011-12 season debut.
Staal had not played this season while recovering from post-concussion symptoms that developed over the summer. Staal was elbowed in the head by his brother, Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal, during the Rangers’ 4-3 shootout win at Raleigh’s RBC Center on Feb. 22, 2011.
“It’s tough to watch a lot of games so to be back in the lineup, to be back with the guys around is really good,” Staal said. “My stomach started churning. I was constantly going over what I had to do in the game. I think once I calmed down and had a good sleep, I just went out and reacted.”
Staal played on the third pair with Stu Bickel. He logged 12:41 of ice time, including 1:04 on penalty kill, and was credited with a hit.
“It was good. He talked a lot on the ice, helped me out. I thought we played well together,” Staal said of being partnered with Bickel. “He’s very talkative. That’s kind of what I asked him to do before the game. ”
When Tortorella made the announcement he added that he was not sure which defenseman he would scratch in order to fit Staal in. The odd man out was Jeff Woywitka.
“I feel terrible about taking Jeff out. He’s in that lineup ready to play the game right up until the last minute after the meal. I don’t feel great about that but he was terrific when I talked to him,” Tortorella said. “He understands if Marc Staal says yes, he’s going to play.”
Tortorella said that trainer Jim Ramsay and Dr. Robert Cantu, the professor of neurosurgery at Boston University that Staal was seeing, told the coach during the team dinner Sunday night that they had agreed the defenseman could play. Tortorella then spoke with Staal.
“I sat down and asked him, ‘Do you want to play?’” Tortorella said. “I heard so many different things, and Marc was talking quite a bit, [so] I said, ‘Staalzie, I don’t care about anyone else’s opinion. Are you ready to play?’ He [said he] was, so he’s playing.”
The Rangers have been cautious with Staal, so much so that he was ordered not to perform physical activity for a month. So even though he is back, the organization is still going to be vigilant.
“There’s some work to do. Any player, even without a concussion, any player that misses [training] camp, it’s a struggle. It’s a struggle,” Tortorella said. “We have to be really cognizant of how we use him and not put him in a situation where he doesn’t get his game back.
“But it’ll be there. He’s one of the very important guys as we go along here.”
Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman for news on all three local teams.