It’s been a mixed back for Eric Staal since he joined the Blueshirts.
Eric Staal remained on the practice rink in Greenburgh on Tuesday for at least 20 minutes after the Rangers’ training session ended ahead of Wednesday’s home tilt against Boston. The big trade-deadline acquisition first did some extra work with Chris Kreider working on board play, and continued to work by himself, pucks littering the ice around him.
Marc’s older brother was brought to New York to give the Rangers (41-24-8, 90 points) “another kick at the can,” as Alain Vigneault has put it. The trade for the four-time All-Star and Stanley Cup winner was made with designs on another run at the Stanley Cup after falling in the Cup Final to the Kings two seasons ago and dropping last year’s conference final to the Lightning in seven games.
It’s been a mixed bag for Staal through his first 11 games as a Ranger as he continues to adapt to a new team for the first time in his career without too much practice time. He has one goal and two assists since his Rangers debut on Feb. 29, a 2-1 win over Columbus. Two of those points, a goal and assist, came during a wild loss to the Islanders on March 6.
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Vigneault took blame for Staal’s tough transition while the coach experiments with different line combinations.
“I haven’t put him in the ideal situation. My fault,” Vigneault said. “I moved personnel around. I’m trying to find the right chemistry in the lines. A few days ago we moved (Viktor) Stalberg, who had been playing real well, to a line with Dominic Moore and Tanner Glass to give us a little more balance. That seems to have worked as far as me being able to play a steadier four-line rotation. Up there, the other three, I’m still searching. That’s a normal thing (during) a season.”
Vigneault wanted to see what Staal could do with Rick Nash when Nash returned from a seven-week absence because of a bad bone bruise in his left leg, but Vigneault broke them up after two games to put Nash on a line with Derick Brassard, easing Nash’s transition back after a long layoff. Nash missed Tuesday’s practice for maintenance purposes.
Staal then was performing well on a line with Stalberg and Oscar Lindberg, who has been a healthy scratch for the last four games. Staal has perhaps struggled playing on a line with Kevin Hayes, who remained in the lineup for Monday’s win against Florida despite a listless performance on Saturday in San Jose. During Tuesday’s practice, Vigneault put Kreider on Staal’s left wing to see how speed on the left would affect Staal.
“Sometimes in a season some guys play better, some guys are a little off, you’ve just got to find the right mix,” Vigneault said. “It doesn’t mean what you start with in Game 1 is gonna be there in Game 82.”
Dylan McIlrath (knee) was cleared for contact and practiced fully but is still roughly a week away from being cleared for games.