The Rangers may have leaked goals in bunches at times this year and may have been, at best ‘rusty and inconsistent’, to begin the year. That said, the Rangers blueline – at least the top end – has been at the very heart of why the Rangers are back on the winning trail. With Dan Girardi and Marc Staal leading the way (and Ryan McDonagh getting back to previous form) do the Rangers have a Norris trophy candidate?
In a shortened season points surely can’t be the sole measuring stick of a Norris candidate, and if the best defenseman award goes to, well, the best defenseman then the Rangers could be in the mix for the award. With Erik Karlsson unfortunately out for the season due to a nasty injury and Nicklas Lidstrom working on his golf handicap, two of the main front runners are no longer in the running. With Shea Weber playing beneath the level of hockey we have been accustomed to – missing Ryan Suter by any chance? – there’s certainly an opening for a new winner.
Step forward Dan Girardi. How the rock on the Rangers blueline went undrafted becomes a greater mystery every additional season he helps protect Henrik Lundqvist. This year Girardi has added a little more offensive pop to his game. With four points in his last four games, there’s offensive consistency on a team starved of it. This is of course in addition to the Danny G. we all know that eats minutes, plays intelligent positional hockey, and still stays away from taking many penalties.Girardi has gotten better as the season has progressed, and perhaps its no coincidence that as he and his partner in crime Marc Staal have begun to play their best hockey, so has the Rangers on ice results improved. If Girardi can somehow sneak up to the thirty point barrier –something that doesn’t seem too far fetched at the moment– he would deserve recognition.
Back in January I wrote about Marc Staal being a potential difference maker. He is. Staal has got to the point now where he’s his old defensively dominant self, appears to have gained confidence moving the puck up ice, and is playing physically and with plenty of poise. There isn’t much Staal isn’t doing this year so far. Against the Capitals he was a physical specimen, manhandling Ovechkin along the boards, while he’s on course for close to 30 points for the season which, over an 82 game schedule, would mean a comfortable career high. Staal is back to being a minute eater for the Rangers, and the performances of the Rangers top three on D has somewhat minimized the concerns for defensive depth (although it remains an issue).
Forget about Staal to the Hurricanes, it was a ludicrous idea to begin with. If he carries on playing like he is now then Sather won’t let him leave the organisation, certainly not as a free agent. If a trade did ever come about it would take a King’s ransom. Staal is making a difference at both ends of the ice after – like Girardi – a somewhat slow start to his season. Right now, there’s not many better threesomes on defense in the entire league than Staal – Girardi – McDonagh and all of them are making a difference.
If there is one thing that could hold back Staal and Girardi from the Norris discussion (aside from neither being a sexy pick) it’s their goal scoring ability. In their Norris trophy winning seasons Karlsson scored 19 goals, Lidstrom 11 the year before, Duncan Keith 14 in 2010 and Zdeno Chara 19 in 2009. This year six blueliners already have 4 or more goals. The league clearly likes their offensive blueliners. This year however could be an exception, with a shortened season offering hope to defensive difference makers such as Girardi and Staal. If they can just slightly improve their shooting percentages and find some twine more often, maybe they’ll find some hardware in the off season too.