The Rangers are rightfully concerned regarding the absence of Marc Staal, placed on the IR Wednesday, particularly since the timetable for his potential return is unclear. He’ll be eligible to play starting Oct. 12, but one look at the Sidney Crosby concussion saga should tell you that no return date is set in stone.
Staal has been the cornerstone of a Rangers defensive corps that has spent three of the last four seasons ranked among the top six in the league as far as goals allowed average. He’s constantly matched against the opposition’s top forwards and, as his plus-14 career +/- rating indicates, he’s often successful.
With Staal out of the lineup, things change. And they change drastically.
The Rangers’ defensive depth will be tested. Ryan McDonagh will likely be paired with Dan Girardi as the team’s top unit. Michael Del Zotto, who was banished to Hartford last season to work out the kinks in his defensive game, will stick in the top four with a banged-up Michael Sauer. Steve Eminger will likely be paired with rookie Tim Erixon, who was recalled from Hartford earlier this week. And it’s not yet clear how waiver claim Jeff Woywitka fits into this picture.
None of that is to say those players can’t step up in Staal’s absence. Far from it. After all, a young and largely untested blue line carried the Rangers to the playoffs last season. Still, when your do-everything D-man goes down, it leads to a lot of changes. Suddenly guys slotted for second- and third-pair minutes are skating more minutes against better competition.
Last season the Rangers usually found scoring in a different way each game. But the constant was their solid defense, with Staal leading the way. Now that constant becomes a question mark. And it will be interesting to see how the Blueshirts answer in their first two games.