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Saturday, December 7, 2013
Staal's situation stings more than OT loss

By Katie Strang

NEW YORK -- More sobering than the 15-14-1 record that has the New York Rangers among the crop of mediocre teams jockeying for position in the Eastern Conference?

The sight of a visibly upset Marc Staal slamming his helmet down as he stalked off toward the trainer's room during the third period of the Rangers' 4-3 overtime loss to the Devils on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

Whether Staal's display was out of anger or frustration is not immediately clear -- he was not available to speak after the game -- nor is his condition.

After the game, one in which his team rallied from behind on Chris Kreider's game-tying goal with less than 22 seconds in regulation, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault was unable to shed much light on what happened to one of the team's top defenseman.

But what he did say is, at the very least, cause for concern.

Vigneault revealed that Staal "didn't feel quite right" after sustaining a hit from New Jersey's Reid Boucher during the third period.

"He took a shoulder to the chin there and didn't feel quite right," Viugneault said. "They're evaluating him now. We'll have an update [Sunday]."

When pressed further about whether there was concern Staal had sustained a concussion, Vigneault did not confirm.

"All I was told is that he wasn't feeling quite right," Vigneault said.

The concern with Staal, of course, stems from his unfortunate injury history the past two seasons, a period of time in which he was sidelined for 63 regular-season games combined. He missed 36 games in 2011-12 with a concussion sustained the season prior. He then sat out more than half of last season after a harrowing eye injury after he was struck in the face with a puck.

"It's a concern with any player when a situation like that happens," Vigneault said. "We'll know more tomorrow."

Staal, a key component of the team's second defensive pairing, has played all 30 games for the Rangers this season, though it is unclear whether he will be available for Sunday's game against the Washington Capitals. The 26-year-old blue-liner, who has two goals and three points this season, averages 20:08 in ice time per game for the Blueshirts.

Though his play has dipped at times this season, a lineup without Staal would be a weaker one for a Rangers squad that is struggling to gain any sort of traction in the standings.

Letting a 2-0 lead disappear Saturday night, the Rangers gave up three straight goals to the Devils before Kreider's equalizer with less than 22 ticks left allowed the Rangers to secure the loser's point. Devils defenseman Eric Gelinas notched the game-winner in overtime with a power-play goal to cash in on Ryan Callahan's careless four-minute high-sticking penalty and wrap up the win.

The Rangers have now traded wins and losses in the past eight games. The most recent defeat came after a week in which Vigneault lamented the team's inability to create separation from the pack and called out his team leaders to step up.

Now, add the daunting possibility of being down one of their best defensemen.

"He's a tough player. To see him go off and stay down there for a second, we obviously hope for the best," top-pair defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "We've got a good staff here and he's going to do what's best for him, but ultimately he's a big part of the team and we're going to miss him."