Penguins center Jordan Staal
will make his much anticipated return to the lineup in the NHL’s biggest stage of the season. Staal, who hasn’t played a game yet in this campaign, will play for Pittsburgh in Saturday night’s 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field.
“I feel ready and I feel ready to go, which I think is the same thing,” said Staal, who has fully recovered from a broken hand. “So it’s kind of funny how it falls (into place), me being ready for this game (the Winter Classic). It’s very exciting and I’m very happy to be back in the lineup.”
“Jordan is healed and every doctor will tell you his hand is good to go,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “It’s just a confidence issue getting back in the lineup for his first time out there. We’re all going to see that tonight.”
Now that (my return) is finally here, it doesn’t even really seem real yet. I know as soon as I get out on that ice and play a couple shifts, it’ll really sink in. It gives me chills now, and I’m really excited for it. - Jordan Staal
Staal is expected to start the game on the fourth line, but Bylsma said that he will see some action with Evgeni Malkin
on his wing.
“He will play on a line with Geno for parts of the game,” Bylsma said.
Staal has dealt with two injuries this season that have sidelined him for the first 39 games of the year. First, he had battled a reoccurring infection following offseason surgery to correct a torn tendon in his foot.
The infection finally healed and Staal was set to return Nov. 3 at Dallas. But in a freak accident in practice, he was struck by a puck that fractured his hand. That setback has held him out of the lineup until now.
“It’s been a lot of ups and downs. About almost three times, I was ready to play and it got taken away from me,” Staal said.
“He’s had to tough go of it,” Bylsma said. “He’s had some tough injuries. He’s had to battle through that more emotionally than physically. It’s been tough on him that way. … The first one has to come some time.”
Staal returned to practice Dec. 26 in Ottawa and the Penguins collective minds have determined that he is ready to go.
“I think through the doctors, me and the coaches and trainers and everything,” he said, “I think everyone feels pretty comfortable with me getting out there and trying to get back into it.”
No one is more excited about Staal’s return than himself. But his teammates come in a close second after having watched rehab aggressively with disappointed setbacks.
“We’re just happy he’s back,” captain Sidney Crosby
said. “Sometime it takes a little bit of time to get back in the swing of things. So I’m sure it’s going to take a bit of an adjustment, especially with the time he’s missed. We’re happy just to see him back. I’m sure we’ll get a better feel for where he’s at once he’s out there. But to see him happy and see him healthy, that’s the most important thing.”
“He’s a really key piece on our team, especially on the PK,” defenseman Kris Letang
said. “He can shut down the top line on every team. He’s always the first guy back in our zone to help (the defense) out. It’s going to be a great help to us tonight.”
In a few hours, Staal’s six months of intense and persistent rehab are about to pay off.
“Now that it’s finally here, it doesn’t even really seem real yet,” Staal said. “I know as soon as I get out on that ice and play a couple shifts, it’ll really sink in. It gives me chills now, and I’m really excited for it.”