Originally posted on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 10/4/11

Head coach John Tortorella officially announced yesterday that defenseman Marc Staal would not be joining the team in Stockholm, Sweden this Friday for their season opener against the Los Angeles Kings in addition to Saturday's date with the Anaheim Ducks. Staal has been suffering from post-concussion symptoms since the summer now and although he's been skating with the Connecticut Whale (AHL) in North America while the Rangers are overseas, he's yet to be cleared for contact, therefore it would be impossible for him to get into game-shape in just three days. 

So this will leave the Rangers without their ace defenseman to begin the season and who knows how long after that. I've previously mentioned throughout the preseason how I haven't been too impressed with what I've seen from the defense beyond Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, and with Mike Sauer also out of the lineup there are some serious holes on the Blueshirt blue-line. I think you see where I am going with this now. 

There is no one in the organization's possession that can replace Staal or bring to the ice what he brings on a nightly basis. If Sauer returns in time for Friday, yes, he will make a difference. But still, he is no Marc Staal. So the Rangers are really left with an ultimatum here; either clean up their game and learn proper positioning as a group or crash and burn quickly as a group because what we saw yesterday against EV Zug will not be able to contend against any NHL squad. 

With Staal out of the lineup, the defense should look something like this on opening night:

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi

Mike Del Zotto - Mike Sauer

Bell/Bickel - Eminger

There's nothing to worry about with the top pairing since both Girardi and McDonagh are consistently steady players. The same could be said of Mike Sauer, but that sure as hell doesn't apply to Michael Del Zotto. Sure, Del Zotto has shown some improvement from last year, however he's been everything but consistent. You really don't know what you will get out of DZ from one night to the next, so that's an issue in itself. 

Then you move down to the third pairing where there are players such as Stu Bickel and Brendan Bell taking up spots. With all do respect to Bickel and Bell, they are not NHL talents. They are two players who will be with Connecticut once the Rangers are full healthy again, or at least Bickel will be. Thankfully whichever one of those two that ends up earning the spot will should be paired with Steve Eminger, because Emmy' actually played some solid defense in the preseason. But again, Bickel and Bell are not the players the guys on MSG Network have been trying to make them out to be. Trust me. 

All things considered, though, it's not even the names that I am concerned about. Sadly, it's the basics that worry me with this team. There were more blown coverages in that game yesterday than John Tortorella has fingers to count. And no, that's not a result of fatigue so don't feed me that bull. In fact, it wasn't only yesterday where alarms started going off in my head. You go back to the Philly game and the first game against New Jersey and you'll realize that there was a pattern of mis-positioning throughout the preseason by the Rangers' defense. 

Not having your best defenseman just for the sake of not having your best defenseman is a big enough problem, but when the rest of the blue-line is looking like a Bantam Division team chasing the puck and leaving the slot open, then you really have some issues that need to be addressed.

This is where the Rangers sort of hit a wall as far as options go. They are stuck with what they have, and with Staal out, they are missing the keystone to their bridge. The only hope is that with two days of practice the defense will start to make adjustments and eventually begin playing how Tortorella would like them to, but to expect an entire unit to be on the same page in just two days is unrealistic. 

New York is going to run into trouble without Staal there to lead, set and example and most importantly, defend. I can already see that the defense is lost without Staal in the lineup, and that's not only because of the way he plays either. He is a leadership model for the younger guys on the team, and he very much so sets an example and shows the rest of the guys how defense is played on this team. I hope now you are seeing why missing Staal will have a bigger impact on the squad than some may think. 

Two games shouldn't bring with it too much misery for us to endure, but if Staal is projected to miss time even when the team returns home to North America, then the Rangers may want to hit the market for a temporary replacement because they will only last so long without their top blue-liner. Let's cross our fingers it's only for two games, but when you are dealing with a concussion, there's simply no way of telling. 

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