The Rangers returned home from a fairly dismal 0-2-1 road trip through Western Canada and were greeted with a happy sight Monday afternoon at their optional practice. Both of the team's key injured players--Derek Stepan and Kevin Klein--were back on the ice with their teammates taking part in the workout, albeit wearing the bright yellow non-contact jerseys.
"It's good to see because they are two guys who mean a lot to this team," stated goaltender Henrik Lundqvist after practice. "It's good to see (their recoveries) are going in the right direction. I don't how much longer before they play, but it's good to have them out there (practicing) again."
Stepan and Klein have been skating together while the team was out west, and both said on Monday that they "felt good" in their initial practice following their respective injuries.
The Rangers lost Stepan and Klein in a four-day span in late November. Stepan suffered broken ribs when checked into the boards by Boston's Matt Beleskey on November 27, while Klein suffered an oblique injury on November 30 in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
"It felt good to be out there with the guys," said Klein. "It was Step and my first time out there and I think it went pretty well for the most part. That was the first hard skate, so I'm just getting my legs back and making sure it reacts well tomorrow to what we did today."
Klein added that he thinks the injury "is pretty close" to being healed, but he would not speculate as to a return date. Neither would Stepan, who said that "it's weird with ribs in how they heal".
Head coach Alain Vigneault said that if both players feel good Tuesday then they could take part in the morning skate at Madison Square Garden before the Rangers face off with the Edmonton Oilers, though, of course, neither would be able to play in the actual game.
"You have that inner person that wants to be out there with the boys as bad as possible," stated Klein. "If it was just a pain thing I could be out there playing no problem, but it's the fact that your core, you use so much of it in every aspect of the game, you don't want to be out there hurting the team or reinjuring it."
Klein explained that his oblique was sore before that game against Carolina and then he heard it pop during a play and knew immediately he was hurt.
As for Stepan he explained that his focus was on being "the eyes" for teammate Kevin Hayes while making a pass to him during that contest with the Bruins right before getting hit by Beleskey.
"I never saw (Beleskey) coming," explained Stepan. "When I made the pass I was trying to protect (Hayes). I wasn't protecting myself, I guess. I was trying to be (Hayes') eyes."