Morning Skate Report: Staal Skates, Rangers Talk Special Teams

By Matt Calamia

There Rangers Sunday received some good news during this challenging stretch of games, as injured defenseman Marc Staal skated for the second straight day as he continues to recover from a concussion he sustained earlier this month.

Staal, who skated on his own today after his teammates took to the ice for their morning skate prior to taking on the Minnesota Wild, said he skated lightly for the first time yesterday since getting injured on Dec. 7 against the New Jersey Devils. He increased his workout today and said if that goes well, he’ll skate again tomorrow.

There is no timetable for his return to the lineup.

“It’s different,” Staal said when asked how this injury compares to the one he suffered towards the end of the 2011 season, which then forced him to miss nearly 40 games at the start of the 2011-12 season. “Last time I played through a concussion for so long that the effects of that dragged on forever. It was different. This time around, from day-to-day after, I felt better and better quicker. No comparison.”

The 26-year-old defenseman said having gone through that previous injury helped him better manage this one immediately after the collision happened.

“I think having come back too early from a previous one and going through all the stuff that I did, I think maybe if I hadn’t gone through that I might have gone to the bench and waited for things to clear” Staal said, adding that “everything kind of went silent except for a really loud ringing in my ears and I got a headache immediately after I got hit.”

Staal said there was obviously “frustration and anger” that this had happened again, which he showed coming off the ice as he headed towards the Rangers’ dressing room.

“When I got hit, I was almost not in disbelief, but you just — you play the game and you know things are bound to happen with injuries and things like that,” Staal said. “[It has] just been a bit of a tough stretch. For me, I was concerned after but I think the next day or so, I felt better about where I was at, as far as the way I was recovering.”

Staal’s teammates continue their franchise-record nine-game homestand tonight against the Wild at 7:30 PM. Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault confirmed after the morning skate that Cam Talbot will start in net after Henrik Lundqvist started a season-high eight games in a row.

“We’ve got a lot of games right now," Vigneault said. "We want Cam to go tonight.”

Talbot, who has gone 6-2 this season, hasn't started since Dec. 2 when he allowed four goals in a 5-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. His last appearance came in relief on Dec. 12, when he allowed one goal on 14 shots against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The focus Sunday was on special teams after the Rangers scored two power play goals, allowed two shorthanded goals and another power play goal against the Islanders. Vigneault said he was pleased with the way his team played at even strength, but that more is needed with the man advantage.

“I’m looking for the same type of game five-on-five [tonight as we had Friday],” Vigneault said. “Our five-on-five last game was one of our better ones of the year … Obviously, and its no secret, we have to be better on the power play. Even though we scored a couple goals last game, our power play – when you give up chances on your power play, they’re always going to be grade-a chances.”

The Islanders scored on a penalty shot — a call that Vigneault said he did not agree with — and another breakaway while the Rangers were on the power play. In the second period, the Islanders nearly scored again but hit the crossbar. The play continued and Derek Stepan scored on the power play.

Forward Brad Richards said he does not remember being in a game where his team scored two power play goals while also allowing two shorthanded goals. Like Vigneault, Richards said the Blueshirts must improve in the special teams battles, and added that is a common trait of a team looking to get on a roll.

“Overall, it was a pretty sound game five-on-five last game,” Richards said. “The special teams area got sloppy. PK, PP, all that. We’ve got to try and put everything together, and that’s the constant battle when you’re inconsistent.”

Odd-man rushes have also spelled the Rangers lately according to Ryan McDonagh, whether they be 2-on-1s, breakaways or even penalty shots like the one called on Friday night.

“You’re not going to give yourself a chance to win if you’re consistently doing that,” McDonagh said of the odd-man rushes. “[We] just have to play with a little bit more poise and confidence, trust our abilities as individuals and trust our system as a group and just go out there collectively that we’ve got to get this done and go from there.”

What do you think of Staal coming back into the lineup? How about the team’s five-on-five play? Share your thoughts in the comments below.