Jordan Staal’s long wait is over.
Sidelined more than three months with a broken bone in his right leg, frustrated as he watched the Carolina Hurricanes lose games, the center should be in the lineup Monday as the Canes host the Montreal Canadiens at PNC Arena.
“I’ve been getting anxious the last few weeks,” Staal said Sunday. “It should be fun. Obviously I’m excited to get back.
“It’s been a journey and hopefully I won’t have to do any more of those. Hopefully I can get back to playing and playing well.”
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Staal was injured in a Sept. 23 preseason game against the Buffalo Sabres. Fighting for the puck along the boards, he became entangled with the Sabres’ Josh Gorges, turning on his right leg and falling awkwardly as Gorges landed on top of him.
The result was a fractured fibula. Having not missed a game for Carolina since his trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins in June 2012, Staal suddenly faced the prospect of being out the first three to four months in his third season with the Canes.
The impact of the loss on the Hurricanes (10-21-4) has been immeasurable. Staal, at 6-foot-4 and 237 pounds, is the team’s biggest player and most imposing physical presence. He’s the Canes’ best defensive forward, one of their best penalty killers and an alternate captain.
“It was a big blow,” Canes captain Eric Staal said of his brother’s injury. “I remember playing against him when he was in Pittsburgh and how tough a night it could be. Without someone like that in the lineup, it makes it easier for the other team.
“I think not only with him but with some of the other injuries we’ve had we haven’t had a lineup everyone envisioned when we started. That’s no excuse. Other teams deal with that, as well. But it definitely has been a hole in the lineup.”
Canes coach Bill Peters said Sunday that winger Jiri Tlusty also should play against the Canadiens. Tlusty has been out the past seven games with an upper-body injury.
“We’ve missed Jiri,” Peters said. “He leads us with 10 goals and also leads us in power-play goals (5).”
Forward Alexander Semin remains on injured reserve with an upper-body injury, and forward Andrej Nestrasil has missed the past eight games with an upper-body injury.
The Canes were beaten 2-1 Saturday by the Tampa Bay Lightning and again struggled to produce quality scoring chances. Eric Staal, who has been slowed by a sore foot, started the game on the wing on a line centered by Riley Nash but in Sunday’s practice was on a wing with his brother in the middle.
Peters is considering different line combinations. In practice, he had Nathan Gerbe with Staal and Staal. Nash centered Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm, and Tlusty and Chris Terry were on a line with center Victor Rask.
Jordan Staal smiled Sunday when asked about having his brother on his line.
“Hopefully we can get the big man going,” he said.
Reminded he was bigger than his big brother, Staal smiled again.
“I’m excited to get back and obviously having him on my wing will ease my legs coming back, knowing he can do a lot of the work down low, too,” he said.
Jordan Staal began skating again Dec. 6. He soon was able to join team practices, then begin contact work. Now he’s set to play.
Eric Staal said he expected Jordan to have some butterflies in his first game. He said Jordan may have to take “baby steps” until he gets back to game speed.
“We’re almost halfway through the year, it’s a fast league and it’s a fast-moving train,” Eric Staal said. “But he’s a good enough athlete to jump back in. He’ll contribute, no question, and do a lot of things we need. He’ll be tough to play against, regardless.”