Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Staal loss showing

Already, the loss of Marc Staal is showing. The Rangers have played three exhibition games and the defense has been dismal minus the 24-year old anchor who didn't accompany the club to Europe due to headaches. Even if Glen Sather's right that it might not be caused by concussions, it's still a lingering issue that must concern the organization as '11-12 approaches.

With the team still carrying 11 defensemen (10 without Staal) including Dylan McIlrathStu Bickell, Blake Parlett and ex-Sen Brendan Bell, John Tortorella's still trying to figure out what his blueline will look like when the Rangers take on LA and Anaheim back-to-back at the end of next week. Meanwhile, second-year blueliner Mike Sauer is out at least a week with a shoulder sprain after taking a spill into the boards courtesy a clean check during last night's preseason match at Philadelphia.

"My adrenaline was going so I tried to gather myself," Sauer told Blueshirts United. "But then the pain just kept coming. It's frustrating because you never want to come out of a game like that, especially before this trip we've got going. The good news is that the x-rays came back negative."

Tortorella still hopes to get Sauer into some preliminary games. With Staal's status still uncertain, the Blueshirts can't afford to lose another top four D who logs important minutes. Much depends on the sophomore tandem of Sauer and Ryan McDonagh, who last night paired with Dan Girardi. Meanwhile, Mike Del Zotto and Tim Erixon are competing for a spot while vet Steve Eminger seems a virtual lock despite a poor showing in a loss to the Devils. Brendan Bell helped his case with a good performance that included the decider in a rematch with the Devs at Newark. Tortorella will get more looks at everyone, including McIlrath, Bickell and Parlett before making more cuts.

With the back end uncertain, it's had trouble clearing the puck and failing miserably on the PK, where Rangers have made frequent trips to the box. With the Flyers lighting it up for three more, including a pair from ex-captain Jaromir Jagr, they've allowed at least half a dozen thus far with five all off uncovered one-timers. Areas where Staal excels include getting in the path of shots and making great reads defensively for key clears that allow a penalty killing unit to change and get fresh bodies.

Until Staal's given the okay, the Ranger D is a question mark with everyone except Girardi moving up on the depth chart, which means increased responsibility. When healthy, Staal works well with Danny G as a top pair that sees the league's best- allowing McDonagh and Sauer to face secondary scoring. Subtract Staal and they're broken up, which leaves a bevy of question marks (Eminger, Erixon, Del Zotto, Bell) as to how Tortorella will deploy the remainder. Unless McIlrath surprises, he's going back to Moose Jaw while Bickell and Parlett are ticketed for the Whale.

The Rangers are doing the right thing making sure Staal is 100 percent before allowing him to even have full contact. The season is 82 games. So, if it requires him to miss the crazy first part that has the Original Six club traveling all over, including a three-game Northwestern swing featuring matches in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver before finishing at Winnipeg, they're probably better off being cautious. With stops in Prague (Thu), Gothenburg (Fri), Bratislava (Sun), Zug (Mon) before headed to Stockholm for the opening pair against the Kings and Ducks, the Rangers will be doing a lot of flying before coming back to face the Islanders on Oct.15. Their first seven games are on the road due to the renovation with 10/27 the home opener against the Leafs.

It's still hard to say when Staal will be ready. However, Slats may want to bring in an insurance policy just in case. Much depends on Tortorella, who will make important roster decisions in the next week, finalizing the roster. The Rangers don't want to rely too heavily on their offense even with Brad Richards. Defense and goaltending are what's defined them. It says here that if Staal is out a significant amount of time, the playoffs take a backseat.

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