Rangers' defense keeps getting thinner

New York Rangers' Steve Eminger, right, escapes a New York Rangers' Steve Eminger, right, escapes a check from Calgary Flames' Tom Kostopoulos during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Calgary, Alberta. (Oct. 20, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

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GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The list of injuries suffered by Rangers defensemen keeps growing, so even bits of positive news get accepted cautiously.

The potential return of Marc Staal, who practiced Monday with a normal red jersey for the first time this season, is a rare good sign. But it's still unclear just when he might be ready for full contact.

It certainly won't be Tuesday night against the Devils, meaning the Rangers' defensive depth again will be stretched thin, particularly after coach John Tortorella broke the news that Steve Eminger will miss at least two months with a right shoulder separation suffered in Saturday's win over Phoenix.

"It hurts," Tortorella said. "He's a gamer. He brought some physical play to our back end. He never stands out, but he gets in the way and he does a lot of good things for us. We'll miss him."

Staal said Monday he might be ready to practice fully in "a few days if everything goes well."

In the meantime, the pipeline to the club's top farm team in Connecticut continues to get worn. Stu Bickel was called up Sunday and will make his NHL debut Tuesday night, and Tim Erixon returns -- his second recall in five days -- as insurance in case Jeff Woywitka's foot injury keeps him out of the lineup. Woywitka injured his left foot blocking a shot Saturday and left practice early Monday.

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Bickel, 25, anticipated being next in line for an eventual promotion, but the phone call he received from Whale assistant coach J.J. Daigneault on Sunday while he was having dinner was memorable.

"You're going to be a little bit nervous going into your first game," Bickel said. "At the same time, I think I'm ready for the opportunity."

Bickel made an impression in preseason camp, earning a trip to Europe with the team, which proved to be important. "I didn't know too much about him and he played well," Tortorella said.

On Saturday, Bickel was playing against Bridgeport. Three days later, he may be in a key role for the Rangers. But that's the way this season is going for them as they piece together wins with a variety of parts.

"From this point on, we're not going to be injury-free," center Mike Rupp said. "We'll deal with it. It's important. It gives other guys a chance to step up and play their game."

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