Tonight’s exhibition game against the New Jersey Devils might be a momentous occasion for some New York Rangers fans, as it will mark the debut of the Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik combo. While that preseason contest should provide a preview of their offensive future, the outlook for the team’s defense is a little muddy.
That’s because their crucial shutdown blueliner Marc Staal is still dealing with concussion issues that many believe resulted from a crushing check delivered by his brother Eric Staal late last season. Marc was supposed to practice today, but he instead opted to see specialists regarding his struggles with post-concussion syndrome. That situation is shaky enough that Rangers head coach John Tortorella acknowledged the possibility that Staal might not travel with the team to Europe on Monday.
The Rangers will finish their preseason schedule overseas and then start their season in Stockholm, Sweden on Oct. 7. They’ll play the Los Angeles Kings that night and then the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 8.
The goal is to get Staal ready for that Oct. 7 game, although it’s still a touch-and-go situation.
Friday, Tortorella admitted he has no idea how the next 72 hours or so will play out with Staal.
“It depends. Like I said, we’re trying to get him straightened out for the regular season,” Tortorella said. “We feel the specialists that he’s seeing now are going to speed that up. So, if he doesn’t make the first plane, he could come over the next day. We just haven’t gotten that far. He’s done a lot of testing, a lot of things over the past two days, and is doing it now. So we’ll find out more as we go into [Saturday] and Sunday.”
No doubt about it, Staal is a huge part of the Rangers defense. He averaged a stunning 25:44 minutes per game last season, compiling 29 points and playing sturdy defense on his way to his first career All-Star appearance. Losing him for an extended amount of time would be a significant blow to a New York defense that is top-heavy.
We’ll keep a lookout for updates during this weekend and as their regular season opener approaches.