Though the Rangers will not have Ryan McDonagh in the lineup for the first time this season when they skate in Denver tonight against the Avalanche, head coach Alain Vigneault sounded pretty optimistic Thursday morning that the team would not have to do without their top defenseman for too long--likely causing a huge sigh of relief within the organization and for fans of the team.
"He's day-to-day, and I don't think it's going to be very long," Vigneault told reporters after the morning skate at the Pepsi Center. "Injuries are just part of the game. Obviously his 25 plus minutes a game are big minutes against big lines and on the power play and penalty killing, so we're going to try and spread those minutes around, and I'm confident our group will be able to get the job done."
McDonagh suffered an undisclosed injury in the final minute of Tuesday's 3-1 win over the Canucks in Vancouver. He was battling Zack Kassian along the back boards when Alex Burrows came in with a high elbow and hammered McDonagh into the wall. McDonagh fell to the ice and writhed in pain, and later left the arena with his arm in a sling. Burrows received a five-minute major and a game misconduct for elbowing, but did not receive futher discipline from the league the next day.
John Moore--returning from a six-game injury absence himself--will take McDonagh's spot in the lineup, and looks to be playing some with Dan Girardi, with whom he paired during the morning skate.
"I feel 100 percent and I'm ready to go, ready to help the team," said Moore. "I'm in the lineup, that's all I can really control, so I get a chance to play my game and it really doesn't matter the circumstances. Obviously it's tough to lose a guy like Mac, but I can't really worry about that. I just have to worry about what I can control, and that's the way I play the game."
McDonagh leads the team with an average ice-time of 24:49 per game. His 43 points are a career-high, lead all Ranger defenseman, and rank tied for fifth most on the entire team. Plain and simple he is a horse who plays against the other teams best players every night, and who has emerged as a legitimate contender for the Norris Trophy.
"He's been our best defenseman all year, so obviously it's a big loss for us," fellow defenseman Anton Stralman said of McDonagh. "We still have to focus on what needs to be done. Hopefully he comes back quick, it's all that we can wish for. We have to step up in his absence, but we can't feel sorry for ourselves."
Stralman said that there might be certain situations where he plays some on the left side, something he has not done a lot of in his NHL career; and Vigneault stated that he plans to mix and match his defensemen since he wil be using only two left-handed shooting d-men and four righties. It would seem to make sense that Marc Staal will play the most important minutes on the left side with McDonagh missing from the lineup. Ironically it was an injury suffered by Staal two years ago that led to McDonagh--then a second-year pro--stepping up as a top-pair defenseman for the Rangers.
"He's a guy you can't replace, you just adjust," noted defenseman Kevin Klein. "He does everything, plays in every situation, is relied on to play a lot of minutes every game, so that's a lot to fill. Other guys will have to step up for sure."
As durable as they come, McDonagh missed just one game last year, and none during the 2011-12 campaign.