By Sean Hartnett
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The injury-ravaged Rangers will be without inspirational captain and all-situation defenseman Ryan McDonagh for the majority of a packed November schedule.
Following Sunday’s optional practice, head coach Alain Vigneault announced that McDonagh has been placed on injured reserve and will miss roughly three-to-four weeks due to a shoulder separation.
“Looks like it’s going to be in the three-to-four weeks range,” Vigneault said. “That’s what we’re predicting. You can’t always be precise in that.”
McDonagh separated his left shoulder during the first period of Saturday’s 1-0 shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets. While playing the puck behind the Rangers’ net, McDonagh’s shoulder was jammed into the boards as Jets winger Evander Kane delivered a clean check.
There isn’t a skater who is more crucial to the Blueshirts’ cause than “Captain Mac.” The 25-year-old blue liner only trails Dan Girardi in time on ice per game — logging 23:33 minutes per contest — and is tied with Girardi for a team-leading 49 shifts per game. McDonagh leads all Rangers with 2:48 power-play minutes per game and ranks second to Girardi with 3:18 shorthanded minutes per game.
The 5-4-1 Rangers have been bitten hard by a rash of injuries, and defenseman John Moore has only served one game of his five-game suspension. Already without Moore, star center Derek Stepan and point-producing defenseman Dan Boyle, the Blueshirts lost both McDonagh and fellow defenseman Kevin Klein during Saturday’s defeat to Winnipeg. Klein suffered a foot contusion in his second shift of Saturday’s game.
“We’re being tested,” Vigneault said.
It will be a tremendous challenge for the Blueshirts to remain above .500 while McDonagh is unavailable. McDonagh has established himself as one of the NHL’s best all-around defensemen, and sets the tone for the Blueshirts with his accountability on the ice and in the dressing room.
Rangers fans should be encouraged by the steady play of Matt Hunwick and improved play from Girardi and Mike Kostka. After a tough start, Girardi’s game has rebounded. Kostka looked solid against Winnipeg after struggling through turnover issues earlier this season. Most importantly, alternate captain Marc Staal is again performing like an elite, shutdown defenseman.
“The last two games, this is the Marc Staal that I got used to seeing when he’s on top of his game,” Vigneault said.”
General manager Glen Sather better be prepared to write Staal a very large check to keep him in New York. Staal is earning $5.45 million in the final season of a five-year, $19.875 million contract he signed in September of 2010. The 27-year-old could command above six years and $6 million per season should he become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015.
ALLEN, MCILRATH RECALLED FROM HARTFORD
The Rangers recalled Conor Allen and Dylan McIlrath at 6 p.m. on Sunday. Neither defenseman played in Hartford’s 4-3 victory over Worcester.
Prior to the roster moves, Vigneault said that the Rangers would be “right under” the salary cap in a situation where both Allen and McIlrath were recalled.
Allen has scored two goals and recorded three assists in eight games for the Wolf Pack this season. McIlrath has not recorded a point in eight minor-league games. Prior to his promotion, the former 10th-overall draft pick led the Wolf Pack with 21 penalty minutes.
McIlrath’s game is all about brute force. The 6-foot-5 defenseman is not a smooth skater, nor is he a natural point producer. McIlrath has a reputation of taking undisciplined penalties. He’ll have to keep his fire under control. Allen plays a safer game than McIlrath and is a fairly mobile skater who performs well in the transition game.
It’s probable that the Rangers’ defensive pairings against St. Louis on Monday night will be: Staal-Girardi, Hunwick-Kostka, Allen-McIlrath.
TALBOT TO START AGAINST BLUES, KLEIN AND STEPAN REMAIN OUT
Vigneault confirmed that backup goaltender Cam Talbot will start against the Blues on Monday. Talbot has appeared in two games this season, posting a 0-1-0 record with a 2.89 goals-against average and .886 save percentage.
“The Goalbuster” will be leaned on by the Rangers during the month of November. The Rangers play 15 games over a stretch of 29 days in November. Vigneault mentioned on Saturday that Talbot will start three or four games during the month.
“He is going to start to get into a rhythm here starting this month,” Vigneault said prior to Saturday’s game against Winnipeg. “We’re playing 15 games in 29 nights. I said prior to the season, in the ideal scenario we’d like to get him 20 starts this year. I haven’t changed my mind.”
Talbot was thrust into the spotlight last season after an opportunity arose due to longtime backup Martin Biron’s subpar play and eventual retirement. The 27-year-old shined in a backup role last season, posting a 12-6-1 record with a 1.61 goals-against average and .941 save percentage.
“I’ve been approaching it like the end of last year,” Talbot said. “With 15 games in 29 days, I just have to be ready to go in there and give us the best chance to win.”
Vigneault confirmed that Klein and Stepan will not dress on Monday. Klein was on crutches on Sunday after undergoing an MRI. A Rangers spokesperson said that Klein will undergo further tests. Klein will be reevaluated in three or four days.
“We still haven’t gotten a final evaluation on it,” Vigneault said of Klein. “There’s a lot of swelling there. He did get some X-rays. I think he had an MRI, but he’s definitely not going to play tomorrow. ”
Vigneault also confirmed that Klein will not be placed on injured reserve.
Stepan skated in a yellow, non-contact jersey on Sunday. The 24-year-old center is edging closer to a return. Stepan suffered a fractured left fibula in a non-contact injury during training camp. If all goes well, he could make his season debut on Wednesday against the Detroit Red Wings at Madison Square Garden.
“He’s day-to-day,” Vigneault said of Stepan. “I think he’s feeling a lot better. The doctors are real comfortable with where he is. Six weeks is going to be Wednesday. I would say that it’s probably safe to assume in the next couple of days he’ll have a normal jersey on. Then, it will be a matter of how he feels physically and (his) condition.”
On Sunday, the Rangers placed 34-year-old winger Ryan Malone on waivers. The move was made to allow the Rangers greater salary-cap flexibility.
Despite being given significant power-play minutes, Malone did not register a point through five games and was a minus-three. Malone averaged 2:10 of power-play minutes per game as a Ranger. The 6-foot-4 winger did not dress in two of the past three games.
Malone signed a one-year contract with the Rangers this summer after the Tampa Bay Lightning bought out his contract following a cocaine-related arrest in April. The 11-year veteran’s two-way contract with the Rangers pays him $700,000 in the NHL and $100,000 in the AHL.
Malone admitted that he and his agent have not discussed his options. He remains upbeat about his future.
“I haven’t spoken to my agent so we’ll see what happens,” Malone said. “I think everything happens for a reason. I’m just not sure what the reason is yet. But it always seems to work out in the end.”
Rookie forwards Anthony Duclair and Kevin Hayes have outplayed Malone. With Malone waived, both stand a very strong chance of remaining with the Rangers once Stepan comes off the LTIR.
“I appreciate the opportunity. Duclair and Hayes are great young players who can play in this league, and that’s the way this league is going,” Malone said.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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