What You Should And Shouldn't Be Worried About With The New York Rangers

Mar. 15, 2012; New York, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) reacts after a goal is scored by left wing Matt Cooke (not pictured) during the first period against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

After Thursday night's tough-to-swallow loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, we're going to take a look at some of the factors surrounding the New York Rangers right now.

We'll start on the positive side. Here are the things you don't have to worry about right now:

The Loss To The Penguins: The two points on the table were huge, there's no debating that. But the Rangers took on a healthy Penguins squad without three of their best players: Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Callahan and Michael Del Zotto. They also lost Artem Anisimov in the second period, an injury serious enough to keep him out of the third period. I can't promise you that a healthy New York Rangers squad would have won Thursday night, but I can tell you that it would have been a different game. That's really all that I can offer on yesterday's game. It was a brutal loss. Brutal. An awful showing from everyone not named Martin Biron, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Carl Hagelin. And while Biron can't be blamed for any of the goals he gave up, having in Del Zotto would have steadied the defense. Also, the refs didn't help Thursday. Can't blame them for the loss, but they sure didn't help.

Join me after the jump for more.

Richards, Gaborik And Hagelin: They get the job done, even when the rest of the team is doing nothing in particular. While the Rangers' offense stuttered and eventually stalled, Richards, Gaborik and Hagelin created chances and scored both goals the Rangers put on the board.

Derek Stepan: The Rangers sophomore star had no points Thursday night, and has been held scoreless for two straight games. I wouldn't worry too much about this. Last night Stepan was on just about everything but the top two lines. He was with Brandon Dubinsky (more on him below), Brian Boyle, John Mitchell and even Brandon Prustat times. Not too much he can do with those combinations. Even so, he had a few chances. Either way, if Hagelin is off the Ryan Callahan line, I want to see Stepan there.

The Rangers' Playoff Hopes: The Rangers are not missing the playoffs this year. Period. If you're jumping off the cliff right now, pull your parachute string please. The world isn't ending. The Rangers still hold the top seed in the East. Let's let a few more games pass before we all go into panic mode.

Now let's look at all the things you should be worried about:

Marc Staal: I really don't know how else to put his play other than: It's not the usual Marc Staal. It's just not. Staal seems too timid around the net, he seems afraid of any physical play whatsoever, he stays away from the corners, he doesn't battle behind the net and he's relied on his stick check far too much. Case and point? The Penguins' fourth goal last night. Let's look at the tape:

The old Marc Staal would have never let Crosby go around him and make the pass from behind the net. The old Staal would have slammed Crosby into the boards or put him into the ice. This Marc Staal? A failed stick check which allowed Crosby to move the puck to the front of the net for a goal. It's not a good sign. There hasn't been much improvement in Staal's game at all.

Brandon Dubinsky: Aside from one or two instances Thursday night, Dubinsky simply doesn't look comfortable with the puck in the offensive zone. He made poor decisions for most of the night, and had a few turnovers which killed a few Rangers' rushes. If you're looking for a place to give Mats Zuccarellominutes (and after his game last night I am), then maybe give him some of Dubinsky's. Just a thought.

The Rangers' Defense: The Rangers' defense was atrocious Thursday night. The question is: How much of that has to do with Del Zotto being out and John Tortorella having to give Stu Bickelover 21 minutes a night? It's a good question, and one the Rangers will have to think about long and hard as Tortorella tries to right the ship. I told you above not to panic over the Rangers losing to the Penguins because of the players they were missing due to injuries. Having Del Zotto out is a huge loss on the blue line. Still, the defense needs to have a better showing than that.

Artem Anisimov: Not his play, but his injury. We don't know how serious it is, but the Rangers are holding their breath that it's nothing. Anisimovmight not be putting up the numbers he wants, but his defense has unquestionably helped the Rangers all year. Anisimov is one of the only players Tortorella can rely on to spark the transition game, since he's constantly creating offense with his defense. The Rangers need him in the lineup bad. And with all the injuries, they really can't afford to lose another player.

Michael Sauer: Sam and Joe brought up a great point during the loss, something I hadn't even thought about: There has been no word on Sauer. I'm not talking about an update to his injury status, I'm talking about anything. When was the last time you saw or heard a report on Sauer since his injury? It's been weeks, if not months. That's nevera good sign. I don't think there's any doubt anymore, Sauer won't suit up for the rest of this season (including the playoffs).

Honestly, don't take too much stock in the Rangers' loss Thursday. There were some really bad signs, but some of them hinged on the injuries the Rangers have sustained. That's still not an excuse for the Rangers to play the way they did and for the offense (aside from Richards, Hagelin and Gaborik) to not get things done; but it's a fact that can't be ignored.

We'll also keep you updated on Anisimov's status whenever the information is made available.

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