The fun ends when your team loses, once during overtime and once during a shoot out; it was not how anyone wanted or expected to see the Rangers start their season.
While the losses are incredibly disappointing, there were definitely some hopeful glimmers during the games. They look sharper, a little faster and seem like they really pose much more of an offensive threat than they have in the past couple of years. However, there is one huge problem that cost the Rangers both games in Sweden.
Where is their discipline? Yeah, they’re still a young team and all, but it’s been a couple of seasons now, and they just keep on taking these dumb, awful penalties that are costing them games. That goal during the game against the Kings? Ryan McDonagh’s fault. These careless penalties just keep coming and coming and there’s no stopping them.
Then again, the penalty kill is nowhere near where it used to be. Especially since the second best penalty killer after Henrik Lundqvist is missing.
Remember that time when Marc Staal got smashed by his older brother during a game? Who knew that it was going to cost the Rangers so much?
It’s been clear these past couple of seasons that Staal was going to be hot stuff on that backline. A couple of years back, one of the fans who usually sits behind my Dad and I at games said that Staal better step it up if he was going to become the next Leetch like everyone was saying. He isn’t the same type of defender as Leetch (and who really know if any defenders like Leetch will ever come around to the Rangers again) but there’s no denying that Staal is one of the best at what he does. There aren’t too many defenders who, three out of four games during the year, can make Alexander Ovechkin practically invisible. Staal is one of the best shut-down defenseman in the league, and most wouldn’t even argue with that.
And then the concussion happened and the symptoms just aren’t going away.
Staal was unable to make the trip to Europe and instead spent some time in Hartford, where he skated with The Whale and participated in non-contact drills. The team thought that he may have been able to join the team in Europe later than everyone else, but that wasn’t the case, and now he isn’t expected to return until the end of this month.
There aren’t many people who can truthfully say they’re comfortable with Staal not playing, even if the Rangers defense has really proven itself as a force to be reckoned with. Staal is a big part of that, though. He’s a big part of the reason why Lundqvist had a 2.28 GAA, and Biron had a 2.13 GAA.
In the meantime,there are four young defensemen who will do their best to capitalize on Staal’s injury and hope to get a permanent spot once he comes back. Michael Del Zotto, Tim Erixon, Brendan Bell and recent acquisition Jeff Woywitka are looking for that spot and you hope that they’ll all be out for blood.
Del Zotto is looking for redemption after an atrocious sophomore season, which showed a mere nine points in 47 games. Tortorella and the rest of the coaching staff are hoping that he can return to rookie season form and can be the power-play quarterback the Rangers wanted when he was drafted in 2008. However, Del Zotto has proven multiple times during this preseason that while he has a lot of talent, he’s irresponsible in his own end.
Erixon is the other hopeful with the best chance of getting a spot. He’s big and plays well. After this preseason he deserves the spot more than Del Zotto. While he’ll get the McDonagh treatment and start out in Hartford, he won’t be there for long.
Woywitka and Bell have only been at practices for about a week now, but Bell has been the one to practice with Eminger. He may be the one to start out, but everything will change when the coaching staff decides that Erixon’s time has come.
While he’s out, Rangers fans can be thankful knowing that Staal’s problem is not as serious as Sidney Crosby’s. Staal will probably make a good enough return at the start of November, maybe 1-3 weeks into the month.
Even so, October will certainly be long.