In the last two games, a 2-1 shootout win over the Hurricanes and Sunday's 4-0 blanking of the Sharks, the Rangers' defense has begun to erase memories of the previous three error-plagued losses in which the Blueshirts allowed 17 goals.
But in the first matchup of the season with the Devils in Newark Tuesday night, it's likely that a second top defenseman, Dan Girardi, will not dress.
And Dan Boyle, who broke his right hand Oct. 9, isn't even skating, so the losses might force coach Alain Vigneault to temporarily move lefty Ryan McDonagh to the right side.
The durable Girardi played only one shift in the third period Sunday before Joe Pavelski's shot struck him above his right skate. The impact tore enough skin to require stitches. The cut was bleeding Monday, and he did not practice. Girardi has missed only five regular-season games since the end of the 2006-07 season.
If Girardi -- averaging 22:46 on ice per game with McDonagh, including big minutes on the penalty kill -- is not ready, Vigneault said Michael Kostka will play. In his Rangers debut, Kostka's two turnovers led directly to Islanders goals in the 6-3 loss last Tuesday.
Girardi also is righthanded, which leaves the Rangers (3-3) with only two other righties on defense, Kevin Klein and Kostka, 28, who has played only 64 NHL games. McDonagh could move to the right side, where he played for Team USA in the Winter Olympics.
"It's something that we have discussed," Vigneault said. "He looked real comfortable there. We've tinkered with it now and then."
So the pairs could be Marc Staal-McDonagh, John Moore-Klein and Matt Hunwick-Kostka. "Players are going to make mistakes," Vigneault said, "and how they respond is important. [Kostka]'s had some good practices. I'm sure that given the same circumstances, he'll make better plays."
Notes & quotes: Henrik Lundqvist (3-2, .892 save percentage, 3.21 GAA) will start his fifth consecutive game. Cory Schneider (3-2, .908, 2.97) will be in net for the Devils, who have lost two in a row . . . Anthony Duclair is expected to be a healthy scratch for the second straight game.