Inconsistent Marc Staal has hit the wall

Marc Staal (18) carries the puck up the

Marc Staal (18) carries the puck up the ice while Buffalo Sabres center Steve Ott (9) and Rangers left winger Mats Zuccarello (36) tangle alongside the net during the first period. (Dec. 5, 2013) (Credit: AP)

BUFFALO - Marc Staal, who was struck in the right eye by a puck last March, played 21 games and one playoff game before vision issues forced him to shut down. In 2011-12, he skated in only 46 regular-season games and 20 playoff games after suffering a concussion.

So in those two years, Staal, 26, has played the equivalent of one season. That, according to coach Alain Vigneault, "is probably a factor" in his inconsistent performance this season: two goals, an assist and a minus-7 on the books in his first 28 games.

"He's concerned about how he's playing," Vigneault said. "Most of his problems are puck-related, decisions with the puck. That's why he's defending so much.

"I've seen him make some great outlet passes, find the seam, join the rush at the right time, but two or three shifts after, not make the play that needs to be made. There's no doubt in my mind he wants to do real well and we're going to stick with him."

"He's just going through a rough patch. We're almost 30 games in, but he did not play a lot in the last couple of years, so that's probably a factor."

Staal isn't alone. The only defenseman who is playing above expectations, Vigneault said, is Ryan McDonagh. None of the defensemen rotating on the third pairing -- John Moore, who dressed Thursday night, Michael Del Zotto and Justin Falk -- "have proved that they can be in the top two pairs; the closest would be Moore," Vigneault said. "With both Michael and Falk, whether they play depends more on the [opposing] team, whether you need more puck movement or maybe a little more bite."

Dorsett still sidelined

Derek Dorsett's sprained wrist isn't healing as fast as expected, and he was forced to sit out Thursday night's game. Dorsett was injured Nov. 2 on a check against the Lightning. He practiced earlier in the week, but more rest is needed. Falk, who had played four straight, is banged up and was the other scratch.

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