Last night’s game was one of the most hard-fought and entertaining games we have seen in the past decade. It was one of the most important games of this season, and possibly the most important game in the Rangers/Islanders rivalry in almost 20 years. This is the type of game where –given coach John Tortorella’s penchant for leaning on his most trusted players– you would expect some of the depth players to see maybe four or five minutes of ice time. That was not the case last night.
Save for Arron Asham, each Ranger player spent the appropriate amount of time on the ice as per their role on the team. Darroll Powe, who is a fourth line player that kills penalties, saw 13 shifts and 9 minutes of ice time. Eight minutes of that was at even strength, and another minute was on the penalty kill. Taylor Pyatt, Powe’s linemate, does not kill penalties. He saw 8:15 at even strength and that was it (I’m discounting the four seconds of PP time for both, as that was the end of the PP for matchups).
John Moore, a third pairing defenseman who is still new to the team, saw 7:55 in even strength ice time. Steve Eminger, his partner, saw 11:35 in even strength ice time. This isn’t all that unexpected because in a close game, a coach will lean on those who are familiar with the system. Moore is new, and is still prone to positioning mistakes that come with moving from Columbus to New York. Eminger has been with the team for a few years now, playing under Tortorella. He’s not the best option, but he will make fewer systemic mistakes.
One other aspect that goes into ice time is matchups. If the Dan Girardi/Ryan McDonagh pair plays only against Alex Ovechkin, and Ovechkin plays 30 minutes, then Girardi and McDonagh will play 30 minutes. This is something that Torts has been pretty good at this season. So it may be counter productive to look at just ice time, and maybe look at the opponent’s ice time as well.
Torts is not the type of coach to roll his lines evenly. He never has been and he never will be. His mindset is to play your best players as much as you can, and there’s nothing wrong with that mindset. But as the Rangers get more dependable depth players, the ability to spread out the ice time becomes a crucial mix to keeping the best players fresh.