By Steve Silverman
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Alain Vigneault has his work cut out for him over the next few weeks.
He is going to have to lean heavily on Rick Nash, Derick Brassard, Marty St. Louis and Chris Kreider heavily if the team is going to stay afloat. Henrik Lundqvist must also play like the best goaltender in the NHL to help secure the Rangers’ future.
Perhaps that formula doesn’t seem a lot different from what the Rangers needed to do at the start of the season or in last season’s playoffs. But it is actually much different and the situation is far more desperate.
The Rangers are battered and bruised on the blue line, and if the other areas of strength on this team do not step up, the Blueshirts will slip in the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference to very precipitous depths.
Here’s how you know how bad the situation is: The Rangers are attempting to bring Tomas Kaberle in for a tryout.
Kaberle is a 36-year-old defenseman who has played 1,086 games in his career. He last played with the Montreal Canadiens after the lockout ended in 2012-13, and he lasted 10 games with the Habs.
Kaberle spent the majority of his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a decent puck-moving defenseman, and he was coveted by a number of NHL teams during his final run with the Leafs. The Boston Bruins picked him up prior to the trade deadline of the 2010-11 season, figuring he would give their ailing power play a lift with his deft passing and all-around play, and that he could also give them competent defensive play.
Kaberle may have had a couple of moments in black and gold, but the Bruins could not have been more disappointed with him. They won the Stanley Cup that season, but Kaberle was an impediment, not an enhancement.
He collected a paycheck with the Carolina Hurricanes before moving to Montreal, and he spent last season playing in his native Czech Republic. He tried out with the New Jersey Devils this past September, but was released.
Kaberle is as soft as a three-day old prune, and just about as appealing. If he ever steps foot on the ice wearing a Rangers uniform, leather-lunged fans will have a new target to boo.
Kaberle is having Visa issues as he attempts to get to New York from Toronto. Maybe he won’t even make it.
Injuries on the blue line have forced the Rangers to try desperate measures. Ryan McDonagh is out three to four weeks with a separated shoulder, Dan Boyle has a broken hand and John Moore has been suspended.
Kevin Klein and forward Mats Zuccarello have also been out, but their return to the lineup appears imminent.
The Rangers have been playing the likes of Matt Hunwick, Mike Kostka, Dylan McIlrath and Connor Allen in addition to Dan Girardi and Marc Staal.
That’s a far cry from the defense corps that led the Rangers to playoff victories over the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Canadiens last season.
The Rangers need Klein and their remaining veterans to stay in the lineup, even if they are not 100 percent. It’s one thing to combat one or two injuries on the blue line, but when a team loses the majority of its regular defense crew, it’s just about impossible.
The Rangers have eight games over the next two weeks, and seven will severely test their depleted defense. They will see the high-scoring Penguins twice over that period, and they will also face the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Penguins (4.09 goals per game) and the Lightning (3.50) are the two highest-scoring teams in the early going.
Rangers fans will need to see Lundqvist play as well as he ever has, and his track record certainly shows that he is capable. They will also need their offense — which is 15th in the NHL with an average of 2.64 goals per game — to pick it up considerably.
The defense crew is depleted and the schedule is daunting. If the Rangers are going to survive this dangerous time, their healthy players are going to stay healthy and perform to their maximum potential.
And if the Rangers put Kaberle on the ice in the next week, it clearly will be time to panic.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy
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