As frustrating and disappointing as Saturday's 4-3 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils at The Garden was for the Rangers, the possible loss of defenseman Marc Staal could be much more damaging in the long run.
Staal was leveled 6:31 into the third period when Devils rookie forward Reid Boucher caught him in the jaw with his shoulder on a hit just inside the blueline of the Rangers defensive zone. Staal fell hard to the ice on the unpenalized hit which took place right in front of one of the linesmen.
Rangers trainer Jim Ramsay attended to Staal as he was laying on the ice. Staal was able to get up and skate off the ice under his own power, heading straight to the dressing room. After exiting the ice Staal fired his helmet to the ground in apparent anger. He did not return to the game.
"He took a shoulder to the chin and didn't feel quite right so they are evaluating him now and we'll have an update tomorrow," Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault told reporters after the game.
There would be concern no matter which Ranger had been on the receiving end of Boucher's hit and was forced from the game, but even more so with Staal because of the severe concussion he suffered that cost him 36 games two seasons ago and the major eye injury that forced him to miss the final 27 games plus most of the post-season a year ago.
"Marc's a real solid defender," offered Vigneault. "With him and Ryan (McDonagh) back to back, I mean that's tough for the opposition when you've got two pretty solid lefthanded defensemen. If for any reason he is not there tomorrow (against the Washington Capitals) then we've got some guys who have wanted the opportunity to get more ice time and a bigger role, and it'll be there for them, so let's see if they can grab it."
The Rangers have been carrying seven defensmen, and on Saturday night Michael Del Zotto was the healthy scratch. He was replaced in the lineup by Justin Falk, who played a robust physical game and notched an assist--his first point as a Ranger--in 13:47 of ice time. John Moore saw increased ice time once Staal left the game, and finished at just under 17 minutes of play, which included being on the ice for Michael Ryder's goal late in the third period which at the time put New Jersey ahead 3-2.