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Staal takes 'step in the right direction' after struggles

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Marc Staal drives to the net for a rebound after a save by Steve Mason.Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

Marc Staal drives to the net for a rebound after a save by Steve Mason.

Amid the Rangers’ recent turnaround, which has seen them go 5-0-1 in their last six games, Alain Vigneault has expressed a need for some more of his players to step up their game. He singled out veteran defenseman Marc Staal after Saturday’s practice, wanting more from him both offensively and defensively.

“I’ve talked to him before, the last few weeks. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it from him,” Staal told the Daily News after Sunday’s 3-1 win over the Flyers. “The last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to get my game back to where I know I can be and where everyone knows I can be at. I’ve just been working through it.”

The 29-year-old alternate captain responded Sunday with one of his better performances over the last several weeks. He logged a season-high 25:42 of ice time, helped shut down Philadelphia’s top line and finished plus-one after taking a minus-two in Friday’s overtime loss to Los Angeles.

“A step in the right direction,” Staal said of his Sunday outing. “I kept that consistency through shift-by-shift. That’s what they expect of me and what I expect of myself too.”

Staal says he’s at his best when he’s on his toes, aggressive and playing physical, and that has been inconsistent in recent weeks.

“Sometimes when I’m not moving my feet and I’m gliding, I’m causing more problems for myself than I think I need to,” he said. “So feeling good, light on the ice, moving my feet, all of that just gets me into the game and playing better. Easier said than done, but I’m working at it.”

Vigneault was pleased with how Staal responded to his public challenge.

“He played hard,” Vigneault said. “He was heavy. He did a great job against their top line. He did a real good job on the penalty kill. He made a couple of nice plays with the puck and I think for him this was a step in the right direction.”

The next step is for Staal to continue that level of play when the Rangers host the Blackhawks on Wednesday before a road tilt in Toronto on Thursday. Vigneault wants to get backup goalie Antti Raanta back in net this week after Raanta took his Friday loss hard, expressing a lack of confidence following a long stint on the bench.

It’d seem logical for the Rangers to play Henrik Lundqvist on Wednesday against the Blackhawks and then Raanta in the second game of the back-to-back against the last-place Maple Leafs. But Raanta could find some extra motivation in playing Chicago, where Raanta lost the backup duties last year to Scott Darling and was sent to the AHL. Raanta was left off Chicago’s postseason roster and ultimately his name wasn’t engraved on the Stanley Cup.

Vigneault said Sunday morning he’s confident Raanta will bounce back.

“He was a real good goaltender for us at the beginning of the year,” the coach said. “That’s the goaltender I expect to see the next time he’s in goal.”

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