Saturday afternoon, a week to the day he suffered a concussion in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh was back at practice with his teammates at the MSG Training Center. It was another positive step in the right direction as he heals and sets his sights on a return to the Blueshirts lineup.
"I'm starting to feel like myself," McDonagh told reporters after practice. "I have a lot of energy physically That was something in the beginning where I was feeling kind of lethargic, but I am definitely getting back to full strength here which is exciting."
McDonagh wore a red non-contact jersey during practice, but took part in all of the drills, and did so with an up-tempo pace. Saturday's practice followed McDonagh's return to the ice on Friday when he skated on his own prior to the Rangers morning skate at Madison Square Garden. The two days prior to that McDonagh rode the stationary bike to begin his return to physical activity.
"It's a difficult process for anyone coming back from an injury of any sort," explained McDonagh. "You do a little bit every day, see how you feel, so you're very anxious to wake up each day to see the outcome from the previous day. I've felt myself progressing really well the past three days and it definitely continued today. It's a good step, and I'm getting close."
Head coach Alain Vigneault was optimistic that McDonagh might be able to resume contact soon, depending upon how he feels following his on-ice exertion Saturday. However he did not have a timetable for McDonagh's possible return to the lineup.
"It's real good to see him out there," stated Vigneault. "The last three-four days he's taken strides and the training has been more intense. Today was his first full practice, no contact, and he looked good out there. I'm hoping he's going to respond well. He's not ready to play, but at least he's taking steps in the right direction."
McDonagh was injured after being punched in the face by Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds in a game last Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center. New York's captain would not discuss what took place during the altercation nor did he have anything to say about Simmonds specifically. He will miss the rematch between the Rangers and Flyers that takes place Sunday night at Madison Square Garden, one that is expected to be heated in light of what happened to McDonagh.
"We can't let our emotions run crazy and start running around doing stupid things and have a parade to the (penalty) box," said alternate captain Marc Staal. "Obviously the physicality and emotion of these games are always high, and tough to see what happened last game, so I'm sure it's going to be a battle tomorrow right from the start. We want to play hard, the way we know how, and get a win obviously."
Those sentiments were echoed by the head coach, who stressed that winning the game against a divisional opponent is the most important revenge the Rangers could exact Sunday night.
"Yeah, there was an incident in the (last) game, and we all know the incident, but for us it has to be about playing a real strong game against a tough opponent," explained Vigneault. "We have to understand the importance of these two points. The importance of the game has to be our focus."
McDonagh, of course will be a spectator yet again, sitting out his fourth straight game Sunday, though hopefully there won't be too many more days on the sidelines for him moving forward.
Derick Brassard and Dan Girardi both took maintenance days Saturday and did not practice, though Vigneault stated both are expected to play against the Flyers.
"We're not calling anybody up, so they should be ready to play," joked Vigneault.