had to wait for the 87th day of the regular season to make his debut in the 2010-11 campaign.
Staal, who has been nagged with injuries to his foot and hand, returned to the lineup in Pittsburgh’s 3-1 loss to Washington in the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic Saturday night at Heinz Field.
“It was a lot of fun,” Staal said. “After all I’ve been through, it was kind of nice to land on this game for me to be back, being able to be a part of it.”
Staal recorded two shots on net, three hits and won 11 of 18 faceoffs.
Most of the 68,111 fans that were in attendance welcomed Staal back to the ice with a loud roar when he touched the puck for the first time.
“It was nice to hear the crowd cheer on my first shift,” Staal said. “I was pretty jacked to be out there and get going. There were a lot of chills.”
He had a great chance in front of the net on his second shift, but his shot went just wide.
Staal, who’s known for his two-way style of play, also saw time on the penalty kill. In the first period, he had a great shorthanded chance on a 2-on-1, got great body position in the slot and ripped a shot on goal that Semyon Varlamov stopped. RELATED: Notebook: Winter Classic Experience Touches All Parties >>
“I thought he had an exceptional game,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “He was good in the faceoff circle, he was good on the penalty kill and his skating was great.”
Staal returned to the lineup after missing two months with a broken hand. His hand had gained the necessary strength and healed to the point where he was fully capable of handling the grind and physical play of a game.
“(My hand) felt alright,” he said. “I wouldn’t be playing if it didn’t feel good. Everything coming into this game came into place really quickly, but everything felt really great.”
Rain started to fall in the third period, and the already soft ice started to get even more water on top. But that didn’t faze the excited Staal – or any of the Penguins, for that matter.
“The ice was a little soft, but it still turned out alright,” Staal said. “We were here now so we might as well play through it. When you play a game like this, you’re going to expect some things like that. All the boys played through it, and it was a great game. “RELATED: Aftermath: Capitals 3, Penguins 1 >>
Staal’s return to the ice was a six-month journey that began in the offseason. The
6-foot-4, 220-pound center suffered a severed tendon in his foot during the Eastern Conference semifinal series against Montreal. He missed only two games in that series (the first time in his four-year career he sat a game due to injury).
Staal had surgery to repair the tendon, but a stubborn infection held him out the first month of the season. Staal was on the verge of returning Nov. 3 at Dallas until he broke his hand in practice.WATCH: Staal's Shorthanded Chance