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With Staal out and Eminger benched, the bottom pairing becomes a problem

Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

Last night, Marc Staal was a last-minute scratch from Game Four, forcing Steve Eminger back into the lineup. In Games One and Two, Eminger got enough ice time to give the others a rest, playing 10 minutes in Game One and 14 minutes in Game Two. After sitting out Game Three (with Staal in the lineup), Eminger played just six minutes in Game Four, and didn’t see the ice after a gaffe in the offensive zone that led to the Caps first goal.

Perhaps that is just a one game benching, much like we had seen with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik this season. But we’ve also seen the other end of the spectrum (see: Bickel, Stu) where repeated gaffes led to barely five minutes of playing time per game. Eminger has seen his fair share of benching, but he has also seen top-four minutes under Torts.

The problem here lies with how Torts will deploy his defensemen if Staal is still uncomfortable playing with his blurred vision. We all remember (perhaps remember too well) the Bickel scenario of the last playoff run, when Torts essentially rolled five defensemen and used Bickel sparingly. While it is unlikely that Eminger will get the Bickel treatment, it is likely that his ice time suffers.

Should Eminger have his ice time reduced, using the six minutes played in Game Four as the barometer, then this essentially cuts his ice time in half (the average of his playing time in Games One and Two). This means there’s six extra minutes that the other five defensemen must split. All of a sudden, we are getting to the ice time numbers of the 2012 playoff run.

All things considered, the smart money is on Staal sitting out the remainder of the series. Vision is one of those things that takes time (see: Berard, Bryan), and if he feels it will hinder the team, he won’t play. Personally, I think 17 minutes of a half-blind Staal is better than 6 minutes of a fully-sighted Eminger. That is no slight to Eminger, I just think the club needs to balance out their ice time more appropriately, especially since the possibility of the Bruins looms in the second round.

The handling of the Staal injury and the ice time for the remaining defensemen is going to play a major role in how far this team can run if they get past the Caps. We saw Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh tire towards the end of the Devils series last year, and there is no reason to believe that won’t happen again if the ice time doesn’t see some sort of balance. The good news is that the Rangers have the pieces to balance the ice time out, but need execution and a little help from lady luck (i.e.: Staal seeing perfectly) to achieve the optimal balance.

20 Responses to “With Staal out and Eminger benched, the bottom pairing becomes a problem”

  1. Walt says:

    I believe that Marc will come back, if not in game 5, it will be game 6.

    In fairness to Eminger, he can play some good minutes, mabybe the benching will help him in the future. We really don’t need another Stu Bickel situation this season.

    Torts has a short fuse, and it can cost us the play-offs if he continues to bench people for one mistake. Again, on the same play, Richards made no attempt to break up the pass, and the Caps score, so why didn’t he bench Richards? That is the reason the Kreider kid is scared to death to make mistakes, and be sent down the AHL, while he played for Torts.

  2. Rob says:

    I also believe that Eminger is one of those players that gets better the more he plays, so it’s a catch 22 with this situation. You can either bench him and tire out the D going forward, or take the risk and play Eminger more and hope he gets better.

    • Scully says:

      I agree with this as well. When he’s forced to play top-4 minutes he always responds by playing inspired stay-at-home defense, yet when he plays bottom-6 minutes he makes gaffes. He seems to respond well to more ice time. Maybe he’s just one of those guys that needs to be in the flow of the game to perform well. It’s not uncommon. Don’t we wish there was some sort of anti-concussion HGH Michael Sauer could be chowing down on right now so he comes back a beast instead of potentially calling it a career at 25.

  3. Chuck A says:

    All I can say is “thank goodness for John Moore!”

  4. Ray says:

    One interesting thing is that Eminger makes far fewer errors than John Moore, who certainly leads all Rangers in that category. The sort of error that may have gotten Eminger benched is commonplace with Moore. Of course, Moore’s game has an extra dimension that Eminger lacks and there is such an upside to his pinching that the gaffes are tolerated.

    The fact that Tortorella plays Moore on penalty kills suggests that Moore can play conservatively when he absolutely has to.

  5. TxRanger says:

    What’s up with Gilroy? I didn’t get to see any of the games he played in, so I’m not really up to speed on how his game has been. I know he hasn’t played in a while, and is inconsistent and probably doesn’t have Torts’ trust, but then why bring him back in the first place?

    • Ray says:

      My take is that he is not nearly the player he was in his first go round with the Rangers. The Rangers brought him back because they thought he would be as good or better than he was two years ago and that was not the case. My only evidence for this is his truly horrible +/- in Connecticut and what little I saw of him as a Ranger.

  6. HARLEMBLUES says:

    This coach has to trust more of his MEN.We can’t keep playing two and a half lines and two Dmen playing 30+ mins.This leads to the Chimeras of the world beating us.Coach guys up not put them down.

    • The Suit says:

      Bottom line is Girardi isn’t even in the top 20 in the league in ice time in these playoffs. McDonagh is not even in the top 30. Not exactly worried about burning these guys out.

  7. supermaz says:

    Bottom line..
    Torts is an ass and has to go.

  8. Spozo says:

    Why do people keep saying that the play that led to the goal was the reason for his benching? It’s not like the guy was playing Norris like defense and then made a bad play and then was benched. Maybe Torts saw some problems in earlier shifts. Maybe he sees the guy practice everyday and realizes what he brings to the table. Maybe he had some crappy plays earlier that didn’t lead directly to a goal but were just as egregious. Maybe some errors that us watching on TV really didn’t notice. All that we see is the bad pinch that leads to a goal.

    • The Suit says:

      Agreed. I guess people just think Torts is a big old meanie.

      • VinceR says:

        Well I mean “he’s an ass and he has to go”. So I mean that’s pretty solid analysis.

    • Galen H says:

      Of course that is a possibility, but some times the most obvious reason, has the higher probability of being correct.
      Is torts known to bench guys, yes.
      Does it tend to happen after major gaffes, yes.
      Does it make players hesitant, and afraid to take chances/or make a bad play? Obviously I can’t speak for the players , but I’m sure it does have an effect.

      A coach needs to get the most out of all of their players. If his tactics have an adverse affect on even 5% of his team, he is doing something wrong.

      • Jess says:

        The saying is a coach is supposed to use his players in situations that get the most out of their strengths while hiding their weaknesses.

        The reason why coaches like Tortorella eventually lose the locker room is because players like it has been mentioned are are to make mistakes out of fear of being benched.

        When you play scared to make mistakes then sure enough you will make them.

  9. Mark says:

    Ice time for the defensemen would be less of a problem if the team could spend more time in the other team’s zone. Game 4 was much better than game three in that regard and lets hope this continues. Another area that would be great is if the other teams defense took a few hard checks on a consistent basis. This again was better in game 4 but needs to continue. When you face the Bruins, for instance, Lucic is always pounding the D, need to have the bigger players do a little more in this area.