Marc Staal came into this season with a fair amount of pressure on him after a tough 2015-16 campaign. Despite the question marks surrounding him, the New York Rangers trusted that the defender could find his game and through just a few contests this season, the big Canadian rearguard has been terrific. Staal has been rock solid on defense and has been better with the puck than he has been in past years. The solid play has taken pressure off New York to go out and get another guy for the backend and allowed the team to play their quick transition style.
Staal hasn’t looked this sharp in his end in a while. In just six games, Staal is fourth on the Rangers with five takeaways and second on the team in time on ice per game at an average of 20:53 per contest. The 29-year-old seems faster on the puck and more confident in his decision-making. His presence has allowed the rest of the Rangers defense to fall into place.
I’ve seen and heard criticism over Staal’s play against Alexander Ovechkin in the recent game against the Washington Capitals, but in my opinion, there are lots of people blowing this out of proportion. I’d say that this is a goal that Henrik Lundqvist should stop more so than Staal.
You can see that Ovechkin gets the puck with some speed, so Staal moves up to cut it down, which is what most defenders would do. Even though Staal misses the poke check he still stays in front of the big forward to keep him from having a clear shot at the net. Now Ovechkin does find a way to score on this play because he’s a terrific hockey player, but I’d say that all you can ask of a defender is to keep big guns like Ovechkin from getting that clean look. If he scores anyway, you just tip your cap.
With Keith Yandle and Dan Boyle gone, Staal has returned to being one of the main pieces of the Rangers’ defense. Having Yandle made it tough to get Staal the extra time that he was used to playing and it seemed to keep him from being his best. The big defender has been quicker on the puck and less hesitant to shoot since being put into a bigger role.
We don’t always see him get the one-timer off; but when he does it counts.
I’m happy for Staal. He’s been through so much in his career with injuries, that it’s been a struggle for him to ever reach his full potential. There was a time where the organization and fans looked at the big Canadian as their next number one guy, but because of a stretch of concussions mixed with his eye injury, he’s always been hindered. Now he’s had a full offseason to rest and he looks to have quicker feet. Being relied on more looks to be helping the cause as well.
Everyone who looked at this team at the beginning of the year said that the defense would be an issue because of players like Staal and Dan Girardi, but to this point, it’s because of responsible play from the veterans that they look so solid.