New York Rangers Marc Staal
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The New York Rangers were victim to not one, but two dirty, devastating head shots from the Nashville Predators.

New York Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey and defenseman Marc Staal were both injured as the result of vicious head shots Saturday night, courtesy of the Nashville Predators. The incidents took place about 20 seconds apart in the second period. Neither Vesey nor Staal played in Monday night’s game against the Dallas Stars.

Vesey and Staal join Pavel Buchnevich on the injury list as the result of a shot to the head. Buchnevich suffered a hit to the jaw last week and has not returned to the lineup as he battles a concussion. The hits to Vesey and Staal have drawn plenty of criticism throughout the NHL as there was no penalty called in either play.

The two hits were different in execution and puck positioning, but both should have had penalties called on the respective plays.

Filip Forsberg’s hit on Jimmy Vesey

The hit Vesey took was clearly interference. Though Vesey made the mistake of keeping his head down as he went behind the net, he was still without the puck. Forsberg collides with Vesey, leading with his shoulder, which he puts directly into Vesey’s head. No penalty was called on the play and Vesey was pulled from the game by the NHL, as per the concussion-review rules. Once Vesey was removed, he never returned to the contest.

Alexei Emelin hit on Marc Staal


As Alexi Emelin goes into the corner to meet Staal, he clearly leads with his elbow as he makes contact with Staal’s head. But that’s not the real issue with the hit. Emelin clearly jumps up into the hit, a clear penalty for charging in the NHL.  As in the Vesey situation, no penalty was called.

The Results

Two blatant hits, two more starters out of the struggling Rangers lineup.

The Department of Player Safety (DOPS) reviewed the play, then had an in-person meeting with Forsberg. DOPS concluded that it was an illegal hit and Forsberg was suspended for three games.

The hit on Staal, surprisingly, was not reviewed by DOPS. Of the two hits, the Staal one, in my opinion, was clearly the more vicious of the two, though both have dramatic effects on the players.

At practice Monday afternoon, the injuries to both Vesey and Staal were officially announced by the New York Rangers.

A concussion for Vesey and what is being described as a cervical strain for Staal. Staal is listed as day to day and will be re-evaluated when the team arrives in New York. With Staal’s previous concussion problems, the team will need to keep a close look on him, even though he wasn’t diagnosed with a concussion.

Now that the plays and results have been broken down, where was the protection of the players on the ice? When Vesey was hit, Brady Skjei did step up and fought Ryan Johansen of the Predators. No one challenged Alexei Emelin after the Staal hit. Where was the recently acquired Cody McLeod? It’s bad enough that two of the team’s players were run over on dirty hits, but to have no one other than Skjei stand up to these guys is disheartening.

How come the leader of this underachieving group, head coach Alain Vigneault, didn’t argue the lack of a penalty on either hit to the officials? I mean if ever there was a time a coach is going to take an unsportsmanlike penalty or get an ejection (rare in hockey), this would be the time. How can we expect the team to show some fight if they don’t get any from the coach on the bench? Staal was practically beheaded and it seemed like no one cared.

The new style of the NHL may be fast and high scoring, but it is missing a key factor. The enforcer. Who is the Joey Kocur, Tanner Glass or Tie Domi of this team? The Rangers didn’t just lose a game Saturday night, they very well might have lost any intimidating edge they had remaining on this sad squad. Maybe it’s my old-school thinking, but if I’m McLeod in this situation, I would have dropped the gloves to prove the point that the Rangers are not slouches. Winning or losing, the Rangers are a team that stands up for one another.

Maybe McLeod, a Nashville Predator two weeks ago, just didn’t have it in him to fight one of his friends or ex-teammates? If that’s the case, then Vigneault needs to show him the bench as he has with Brendan Smith, Buchnevich and J.T. Miller throughout the season. McLeod’s mistake of not standing up is as bad as the mistakes these three players have made, which had them benched by the coach.

It’s not all about McLeod. There’s plenty of blame to go around this time of year. I blame the on-ice officials that night. These hits could have and should have been called on the ice. I’m sure the Predators saw that too. If the officials aren’t going to make the calls, then why stop the nasty stuff?

Now, the struggling Rangers are down two more starters. That brings the total number to five: Chris Kreider, Kevin Shattenkirk, Buchnevich, Vesey, and Staal. It’s only going to get harder from here without them. The playoffs may be slipping away faster than most realize.

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