During last night’s second straight convincing win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Rangers started becoming what we expected of them. It took about ten games to shake off the rust and get accustomed to the season, which is what we expected. As players get used to playing the game again, they also get used to the roles they will be playing for the team this year.
Last night we saw the coaching staff deploy ten different players on the penalty kill, with eight being used for at least 1:30 (give or take 5 seconds). These eight players are clearly the workhorses on the kill, and while there are some usual suspects, it’s not all who you would expect. It’s also interesting to see the two players who were used for under a minute –Rick Nash, Carl Hagelin– were two players we expected to get a decent amount of time on the kill. Although their ice time shows that they will be used to relieve the other forwards when tired.
The eight guys used for regular penalty killing time consists of four forwards (Jeff Halpern, Darroll Powe, Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan) and four defensemen (Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Anton Stralman). The first three listed in each category were the ones we expected to be getting this kind of time. However, seeing Stepan and Stralman out there for extended periods shows the trust the coaching staff has in them defensively.
We spoke about Stralman this morning, and how his emergence has really given the Rangers some depth on a healthy blue line. His ability to play on the penalty kill keeps Michael Del Zotto fresher –they had about the same playing time at even strength– for the powerplay (when he gets PP time). He also gets to relieve the defensive juggernaut trio of Staal/McDonagh/Girardi for a bit.
As for the forwards, it’s refreshing to see Stepan out there regularly. He adds some offensive talent and a potential threat, something that other teams are going to have to be aware of. His ice time on the kill corresponds to Cally’s time, so that unit in itself is both fundamentally sound and possesses an offensive threat. Throw in the Nash/Hagelin duo for a shift here and there, and the Rangers have a defensively solid kill with some offensive potential. It’s clear that Torts is relying on these guys heavily.
Of course, there is no coincidence that once Henrik Lundqvist started being The King again, the kill started being effective again. He will always be the most effective penalty killer on the ice.