The other day, Kevin Baumer asked a question about which Rangers have elevated their game for the playoffs. The obvious answers were Brian Boyle and Henrik Lundqvist, but another answer has been Anton Stralman. Outside of Dan Girardi, who is playing as his usual self, Stralman has been the Rangers best defenseman this series. In this series against Ottawa, he is tied for the team lead in points (3) and second in goals (2). He has been a rock on defense, and has made out-of-this-world plays on defense to help preserve leads.
Perhaps the biggest indicator of how well he has been playing is his ice time. Last night Stralman totaled 19:13 in ice time across 21 shifts, including 6:21 on the powerplay. Stralman has taken over the point on the powerplay, removing an ineffective Derek Stepan. Stralman’s play has been so good that he has rendered Stu Bickel relatively useless. Bickel received just 3:33 in ice time last night.
It’s not like Stralman is playing from experience either. This is his first trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs, and has only played 13 playoffs games total in his entire hockey career. Perhaps he is being helped by the quality of competition he is facing in the playoffs. Stralman’s Qualcomp of -.183 isn’t that strong, but it is considerably higher than Stu Bickel’s or Michael Del Zotto’s quality of competition faced. Naturally, he is nowhere near Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, or Marc Staal, but that’s expected.
Where Stralman is really beginning to excel is his puck possession metrics. At even strength, Stralman’s relative Corsi throughout the first round is 14.8, which is incredibly high. We are victims of small sample sizes here, especially when it comes to Corsi, but it is a drastic improvement over his regular season Corsi (0.4).
Another sign of improvement: that Corsi we see from Stralman is despite starting under 50% of his shifts in the offensive zone (48.0%). Stralman has actually managed to have better puck possession despite starting the majority of his shifts outside the offensive zone, which is to say he has elevated his game for this series. All this from a guy who was a healthy scratch for a good part of the year.
What separates the winners from the losers in the playoffs is the ability to raise their game in the playoffs. Stralman has zero Stanley Cup experience, but he has certainly elevated his game to levels none thought possible. Stralman may just be one of those guys, like Ruslan Fedotenko, who excels in the playoff hockey atmosphere. Maybe he needed that kick in the butt that comes from the increased physicality and grinding nature of the postseason. He is playing like a man on a mission, and at the right time.