Michael Sauer of the Rangers shoots the puck against the...

Michael Sauer of the Rangers shoots the puck against the Florida Panthers. (Jan. 25, 2011) Credit: Jim McIsaac

MONTREAL - The last time the Rangers went winless in five games, Ryan McDonagh was at the University of Wisconsin and Michael Sauer was playing with the Hartford Wolf Pack.

Monday night in Detroit, when the Rangers try to avoid their first five-game skid since Jan. 21-30, 2010 - the middle of last season - rookie defensemen McDonagh and Sauer will be in significant roles on the blue line.

In the 2-0 loss to Montreal on Saturday, Sauer logged 23:35 of ice time and McDonagh a season-high 21:36. The play of the rookies put them in a prominent place in coach John Tortorella's classroom video, which was shown to the team before it left Montreal yesterday afternoon for Detroit.

"They were probably our best pair as far as controlling our gaps," Tortorella said. "I'm excited for where we think they can get to as we grow as a hockey club. I think there is offense there, but to call them offensive defensemen? No. Michael Sauer has shown an intelligence, especially from the blue line in, particularly his pinching. I'm going to show 10 clips of them pinching that they produced to keep our offense going. It may not translate right away to a winning streak, but it's good stuff."

McDonagh, 21, a teammate of Derek Stepan's with the Badgers, showed enough for the Rangers to trade veteran Michal Rozsival to the Phoenix Coyotes for Wojtek Wolski on Jan. 10. He has been plus-4 in 14 games.

Sauer, 23, isn't a shrinking violet. His neck was still sore Sunday after Andrei Kostitsyn slammed him into the corner boards from behind at 1:31 of the second period. Sauer challenged Kostitsyn, who backed away, a move the defenseman called "gutless . . . after a hit like that."

There wasn't any vicious hitting in a pressure-free practice yesterday morning in Montreal, with three-on-three passing drills and a match with nets on each blue line as Tortorella and the coaches tried to accentuate the positives.

"I've got 63 clips to show," he said. "I'm going to show some corrections, but there were more good things last night than corrections. But we lost four games and, I said to myself, 'Am I rationalizing?' I don't think our team should be down. We need a big play at a key time, maybe a couple big plays at key times to help us, but we can't lose the defensive part of the game. You have to stay strong away from the puck. You have to defend first, and hopefully we get someone, or two or three people, going offensively."

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