The Rangers’ back end has been short-handed in the season’s first quarter without cornerstone Marc Staal.
But news broke early Tuesday afternoon that could bode well for the team as the season progresses. ESPNNewYork.com and the New York Post reported that Staal has begun skating and John Tortorella confirmed those reports during an abbreviated pre-game press conference.
Staal has not played this season after 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.
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Initially, Staal was diagnosed with a sore knee. He missed three games — the Rangers went 1-2 without him — before returning for the 3-1 loss to Minnesota on March 3. Staal, who made his first All-Star appearance during the 2010-11 season, finished the year with seven goals, 22 assists, 29 points and was plus-eight.
Torts is short
Tortorella was not in any mood to talk before last night’s nationally-televised win over Pittsburgh.
“Just peachy,” Tortorella said sarcastically when asked for his mood.
And, well, with Sidney Crosby back and seemingly as good as ever, his irritation may have been well-founded. Crosby entered the match with two goals, seven assists, nine points and was plus-seven in four games. If the league’s best player stays on the pace he has set, Crosby could finish the year with 140 points.
He finished with two points — both on assists — in 20:36 of ice time. He had one shot on goal, missed three shots and had three shots blocked.
Gaborik dominating offensively
One of the overriding themes for the Rangers this season has been the dominant play of right wing Marian Gaborik. He entered the match leading the team with 10 goals and 17 points in 20 games. He left the game with his 11th goal and eighth assist.
Gaborik’s power-play stuff at 18:26 of the second period was the game-winner. He also combined with Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan on a spectacular weaving rush that concluded with the captain’s power play goal that tied the game 1-1 8:01 into the second. Gaborik had eight shots — four he was credited with, one blocked and three missed — in 22:49.
But what stood out to John Tortorella was Gaborik’s willingness to back check.
“I thought Gabby was the best player on the ice, both teams. He was skating, making passes, confident in the things he was doing. He made some big plays,” Tortorella said.
“He’s pushing people back with his speed. He’s been skating all year long, not only that way offensively, but skating this way when we don’t have the puck,” Tortorella added. “He seems to have it more. I thought he was a force as far as his aggression with the puck, skating, testing people, backing them off.”
Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.