“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.
For the New York Rangers, we pick … defenseman Marc Staal.
No shortage of candidates for the Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist is in a contract year, on the verge of becoming the highest-paid goalie in the NHL. Alain Vigneault is the new head coach after John Tortorella was fired. Everyone knows Brad Richards needs to bounce back.
But for us, Staal’s is the most compelling story after the serious eye injury he suffered in March. The 26-year-old is a huge part of New York’s blue line and is also in the running to play for Team Canada at the Olympics.
You may recall that Staal’s postseason return lasted just one game before he put his comeback on hold. Fortunately, he says now that “the perception, what I’m seeing on the ice, has [gotten] way better than when I was trying to come back in the playoffs.”
If Staal can get back to playing 20-plus minutes a night against tough competition, not only will the Rangers benefit from all the things he does well on the ice, it should also lessen the load on the team’s other top blue-liners, like Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto.
“Training camp’s going to be important for me to not only get physically ready but mentally on the ice,” Staal said. “Getting comfortable and getting the speed and the intensity in skates and bringing that into the exhibition games and into the season.”
For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.
The future of Winnipeg’s goaltending will be on display tonight in Minnesota.
Connor Hellebuyck, the highly-touted prospect that starred for Team USA at the 2015 World Hockey Championships, will make his NHL debut today when the Jets take on the Wild at Xcel.
Hellebuyck is up with the Jets following an injury to No. 1 (or, “No. 1”) netminder Ondrej Pavelec, who’s out until January with a lower-body injury. An AHL All-Star a year ago, Hellebuyck arrived in Winnipeg with great fanfare and it’ll be interesting to see how he responds to the hype and pressure that come along with his first-ever big league start.
For the Wild, Devan Dubnyk‘s in goal.
— Corey Crawford goes for Chicago in Anaheim. No word yet on who the Ducks will have in goal.
— Braden Holtby starts again for Washington, as the Caps host the Bolts. Tampa Bay has yet to name a starter, much like the Ducks.
— Marc-Andre Fleury takes on Sergei Bobrovsky in Columbus tonight, as the Blue Jackets host the Penguins.
— Mike Condon is back in the starter’s role for Montreal with Carey Price sidelined, and his first order of business is a road date against Cory Schneider and the Devils in New Jersey.
— Cam Ward faces Chad Johnson as Buffalo welcomes the ‘Canes.
— The Isles will start Jaroslav Halak in Florida. The Panthers will counter with Roberto Luongo.
— Cam Talbot finally gets back into the starter’s role tonight in Detroit. Jimmy Howard will go for the Wings.
— It’s Ryan Miller versus Antti Niemi as the Canucks take on the Stars in Dallas.
— Even though Jonas Hiller is healthy and Joni Ortio‘s in the minors, Calgary will stick with Karri Ramo in Arizona. The Coyotes are going with their No. 1, Mike Smith.
For the first time since Nov. 5, Zach Parise will suit up for the Minnesota Wild.
The team confirmed today that Parise will be in the lineup tonight at home versus Winnipeg. The 31-year-old forward has missed the last eight contests with a sprained MCL.
The Wild were 7-2-2 before Parise got hurt. They lost the game against Nashville in which he suffered the injury, then went 4-3-1 without him.
“I’m just hoping to get back to form as quick as possible and go from there,” Parise told the Star Tribune. “I’m not thinking I need to score right out of the gate, I just want to play. … We’re still right in the hunt for everything. We’ll be fine.”
The Vancouver Canucks will face a pretty motivated Dallas Stars team tonight at American Airlines Center.
Blame the Ottawa Senators. They were the ones who smoked the Stars, 7-4, on Tuesday.
“It brings you back down to earth,” captain Jamie Benn told the Stars’ website. “You learn that any team can come in here and whip your butt. It was embarrassing for us, especially in our home rink and in front of our home fans. We don’t want that to happen again.”
The Stars have had their way with the Canucks in recent years. The last time Vancouver won in Dallas was Feb. 21, 2013. Since then, victories have included scorelines like 5-1, 4-1, 6-1, and 6-3.
The Stars have already hosted the Canucks once in Dallas this season. On Oct. 29, they fought back from a 3-1 third-period deficit to win, 4-3, in overtime.
Dallas (17-5-0) has yet to lose consecutive games this season.
Well, Matt Beleskey sure made his presence felt in the Thanksgiving Showdown.
With the Rangers leading the Bruins 2-1 midway through the second period, Beleskey delivered a huge hit on Rangers forward Derek Stepan, then had to answer the bell as he was immediately confronted by towering Blueshirts d-man Dylan McIlrath.
Needless to say, it had a pretty profound effect on the game.
McIlrath got the instigator penalty for the fight, which sent the B’s to the power play. Not long after, Brett Connolly scored his fifth of the year to even the score at 2-2.
Then, later in the period, Stepan was spotted going down the Rangers’ tunnel.
We’ll keep tabs on Stepan’s condition moving forward, and if the comes out for the third period.
There’s a pretty good chance New York bench boss Alain Vigneault will be asked for his thoughts on the hit, too, so stay tuned.
Update: The Rangers have ruled out Stepan for the remainder of the contest.