The impact of the absence of Marc Staal — who will miss his fourth straight when the Rangers meet the Sabres tonight in Buffalo — has been mitigated to a large degree over this small sample size by a combination of a return to last season’s form by Ryan McDonagh and stepped-up play from Anton Stralman and Steve Eminger.

There is no timetable regarding a return for Staal, who was struck just under the right eyelid by Jakub Voracek’s deflection of a Kimmo Timonen drive last Tuesday night, though the Blueshirts are hopeful the defenseman might be back by early next month.

Staal had been reunited with Dan Girardi on the club’s first pair just a handful of games before sustaining the injury. He bumped McDonagh, a model of excellence last year after being elevated to the top tandem when Staal missed the first 36 games with post-concussion syndrome. But McDonagh had struggled this season with inconsistency marked by too many turnovers and missed assignments.

Now, being used with Girardi in a match-up role against the opposition’s top line, McDonagh is asserting himself just as he did last season. Last Thursday at the Coliseum, the tandem was matched against the Islanders’ John Tavares. Sunday in Washington, McDonagh and Girardi were on against Alex Ovechkin. Tonight, coach John Tortorella is likely to try to match the pair against the Thomas Vanek-Cody Hodgson-Jason Pominville unit.