The Pens center has missed the last 15 games with a knee injury suffered Jan. 6 against the New York Rangers, but is expected to play Saturday afternoon against the Winnipeg Jets.
will be playing in the game (Saturday),” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “As long as he had, as we expected him to (have), a good day on the ice, he’ll be in the lineup (Saturday).”
Staal, as expected, is eager to get back into game action.
“I’m feeling really good,” Staal said. “The last couple days it was great just to get a couple practices with the team and kind of get back into the timing and everything. Things are looking up.
“I think the knee feels really strong and everything feels really good. The training staff did a great job of getting me ready.”
Staal won't be assuming his normal 20-minute, all-situations role off the bat. But his role will be "significant."
"I expect him to be used significantly in the game," Bylsma said. "Maybe not quite totally to the 20-minute mark, but 15-plus minutes and on the second power play. Probably not 100 percent on the penalty kill. That may be a spot where other players may go in front of him where he normally would assume their ice time. I think he’s going to play 15-plus minutes."
Staal, who skated with linemates Matt Cooke
and Pascal Dupuis
in practice, was hurt during a knee-on-knee collision with Rangers forward Mike Rupp. Staal was prone on the ice and needed assistance heading to the locker room.
Despite the hit, Staal said there is no animosity between Rupp and himself.
“There’s no bad blood,” Staal said. “‘Rupper’ is a great guy. I really respect him as a player. He’s an awesome guy.”
Staal’s knee injury was expected to take 4-6 weeks to heal. Staal’s return will be at the end of his fifth week/start of his sixth week: right on target.
“I think (the rehab) was right on pace,” Staal said. “The training staff did an awesome job just getting me prepared and getting me feeling good. I’m very happy with that.”
Staal, who didn’t miss one game due to injury in his first four NHL seasons, has battled various injuries over the past two years.
Staal missed the opening of the 2010-11 season with a foot infection. His return was delayed after his hand was broken from a shot in practice. All together he missed the first 39 games with the two overlapping injuries.
Staal missed five games with a lower-body injury earlier this year before suffering the knee injury Jan. 6.
Staal started practicing with his teammates Monday in Montreal. He had a brief scare at Thursday’s practice when he got hit in the mouth with a stick, nothing that a few stitches couldn’t solve.
“It’s been tough,” Staal said of his recent rash of injuries. “But those things happen, I guess.”
Although his recent prolonged rehab stints have given him the experience to remain patient with his various ailments.
“I think you learn a lot,” he said. “After my first stint, I played quite a few games in a row there. It’s tough being out. I think that’s the hardest thing, just missing the guys and the daily stuff. It doesn’t get any easier, that’s for sure. I’m glad to be back.”
And there’s nothing like getting thrown right back into the fire as Staal will play in back-to-back home games Saturday and Sunday.
“It’s never easy to play back-to-back games,” he said. “But you’ve got to start somewhere.”