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Changes Are Coming On The Blue Line

Not sure if you guys caught this, but Marc Staal returned to the lineup in dramatic fashion, just in time for the Winter Classic. Again, if you missed this, I don’t blame you, the news was sort of buried amidst the other Winter Classic hooplah.

All kidding aside, Staal’s return marked the 11th defenseman the Rangers have used this season. Stepping back, it really is remarkable how they are this good despite playing everyone except my mother on defense this season.

With Staal back in the lineup,┬áthe obvious scratch choice was Jeff Woywitka, and as expected, he was scratched for the Winter Classic. Woywitka, claimed off waivers, was essentially an insurance policy and a body to dress for games. In all fairness, he exceeded expectations and was extremely serviceable. He came in, adjusted to the new system, and played some steady third line minutes…with some hiccups of course.

Now with Mike Sauer looking like he is on the path to return –he skated with the team– the Rangers are going to need to find a place to insert him when he returns. The only realistic options for replacement are Anton Stralman and Stu Bickel, as none of Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, or Michael Del Zotto will be sitting any time soon.

Considering the current pairings, it is my guess that Bickel will be the one who sits for Sauer, when he returns. It’s nothing against the kid, who has played very well (again with some hiccups) in his call up, it’s just a numbers game. It makes more sense for Bickel to be returned to the AHL and get significant ice time than for him to sit around as the healthy scratch for weeks at a time. It is for that same reason that I expect Woywitka to stick around for a long time, at least until Steve Eminger heals.

The decisions about scratches and replacements are easy decisions. The decisions for defensive pairings however is a very tough choice. Does John Tortorella go back to his bread-and-butter pairing of Staal-Girardi? Does he leave Girardi with McDonagh and put Staal with Sauer? Does Del Zotto get matched back up with Sauer, leaving Staal to play with Stralman? These are questions that can only be answered by the coaching staff and by the players’ performance on the ice.

Personally, I would go back to ole reliable: Staal/Girardi, McDonagh/Sauer, MDZ/Stralman. That gives the Rangers two legitimate shut down pairings that also have some offensive upside, plus the surprisingly strong pairing of MDZ/Stralman to give the top four much needed rest. That leaves Eminger as the odd man out, but you would have to assume Stralman and Eminger would be rotating. Assuming those three pairings play the way that is expected and the way that they have all year, the Rangers have one of the deepest blue lines in the league.

The Rangers haven’t played a single game this season with a full strength blue line, yet they remain in first place in the conference. The Times They Are a-Changin’.

22 Responses to “Changes Are Coming On The Blue Line”

  1. The Suit says:

    Personally, I think they should ease Staal back into the lineup. I wouldn’t play him 26+ minutes a night with Girardi just yet. Have him play on the third pair for the next several weeks. Let him get his legs back.

    • Dave says:

      That’s probably the plan, and by that point hopefully Sauer is ready. With those 2 back, you can play the top 4 about 20-23 mins a game, and have the bottom pairing play 14-17 mins. It’s a lot more balanced.

      • The Suit says:

        Good point, but with MDZ getting the PP time that he does, and his all around solid play of late, I’m not sure I want him getting reduced minutes.

        Definitely a situation worth watching.

  2. Mark says:

    I think they ease both of them back. I also thought Stralman and Del Zotto looked very good together. Stralman was our best Defenseman during the Winter Classic (other then McDonaugh’s play to save a goal)

    Start with is.. .Girardi McDonaugh, Stralman Del Zotto, Staal Saur… See hwo they play and get them back into shape then if anythign switch back to the way they had it and move Stralman and Delzottoa to our 3rd pairing.

    Looks very good and young.

  3. Bob Ader says:

    good to have a problem of strength, not a norm for team. ease staal and sauer back, performance will dictate.
    with nyr number strength, it’s time to really consider adding a top three foward. hard to break up this unit even a little, but RYAN is available and should be persued.

    • Zen says:

      Completely agree.

    • scrangersfan says:

      1st. The Ducks already stated that Ryan is not going to be traded.
      2nd. Even if he was available at what price? are we willing to give away players that may turn out to be just as good as ryan.
      It is a tough decision, sort of like damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Ryan would also my first choice(other then Stemkos if he was available)but it have to be at a reallistic price.

      • Dave says:

        Last night it broke that they only Teemu and Koivu are untouchable.

        • scrangersfan says:

          That’s good news. If The rangers could swing a deal for Ryan at reasonable price without damaging the core of the prospects in Hartford, it would actually give them a shot og going all the way. That would be awesome!

          • Alex says:

            Im ok with giving up Dubi, Zuc and a first. Maybe a decent prospect thrown in there.

            • scrangersfan says:

              How about all of your suggestion and Christion Thomas or Bourqe but not both?

  4. Zen says:

    It is worth noting that MDZ plays heavy minutes when Gaborik is on the ice. That is part of the reason his +\- is so strong. In moving him to the third pairing, that time would be lowered. Will Tort’s do that with how well things are going? Interesting question.

    • Dave says:

      +/- is relatively worthless. You should use GVT/PVT…check a few posts down.

      • HARLEMBLUES says:

        Baseball is the only sport that you can score,chart or measure one’s effectiveness by looking at stats.You can read a scorecard and know what happen in a game.In hockey top players play more minutes against top players,coaches match and mix lines and at crunch time some guys dont play at all.a guy can come over the board never touch the puck and his team scores. top dman play against top forwards so they will give up more quality chances just because how do you measure all this with a stat.

    • wwpd says:

      if being on the ice with Gaborik is so important why is DZ +25 while Gaborik is +9 and he’s on the ice with himself all the time :)

  5. Michael says:

    I agree with easing Staal and Sauer back in. No need to rush. I would balance things out on ice time and try to get closer to 22min,22min,16min. The fewer minutes these guys play each night the more they have left in the tank come playoff time. Trade some of the extra D in Connecticut and picks/prospects to get 1 more truly gifted forward

  6. Walt says:

    Ease the guys into the games, and then spread out the playing time for the three pairs just about equally. Save the best pairing, Giradi, and McD for the end of a game, if we are holding a lead, that would seem the best plan for me.

    In all the years of following this team, never have we ever had this wonderful a problem, given the over all play of our defense this season!

  7. Sioux-per-man says:

    I would love to see a trade for Ryan, even if we had to give up Dubi, an extra Dman, while you’re at it maybe even Zucc/Christensen/Wolski. I’m sure any of them would like a second chance at playing more NHL minutes. Zucc might fit in nice with Getzlaf and Perry.
    Ryan is only 24, puts in 30+ goal every year, 60-70 point guy. I doubt they will resign him next year anyways, better to get something now or nothing later. (Ex:Dallas return for Richards)

    • Sandy Hooker says:

      I am pretty sure Ryan is locked up for a while

      • The Suit says:

        He’s locked up until 2015. The way he’s playing, I would not trade for him given the likely cost if he comes back on the market.

  8. rob sahm says:

    i like strallman and i think he would be a good pairing with del zotto he has some offense to his game