A lot of noise has been made about how coach John Tortorella deploys his defensemen. Most of this is due to the coach playing five defensemen during last year’s playoff run, but some new noise has been made recently when Steve Eminger was benched for half of Game Four. But a lot of this is just noise, and the Rangers don’t even have a defenseman in the top-five in playoff ice time among defensemen.
In fact, only Dan Girardi is int he top-ten in ice time, averaging 26:53 of ice time per game, good for seventh highest in the playoffs. You read that correctly, not a single Ranger averages over 27 minutes of ice time. Next on the list –as expected– is Ryan McDonagh, who averages 24:57 of ice time, good for #17 on that list. This makes perfect sense, as this is the Rangers top defensive unit, and they should be getting a good portion of the minutes. When you have stud defensemen, you play them.
Once you get past Girardi and McDoangh, you don’t see another Ranger in the top-30. In fact, the next Ranger is Anton Stralman at #58, averaging 20:06 of ice time. Michael Del Zotto comes in at #77 at 17:55. This is average for your second pairing, especially when your third top-two defenseman (Marc Staal) is out indefinitely. Staal played one game at 17:17, clearly in a limited role, but he would take some of the ice time that Girardi and McDonagh are getting.
John Moore plays 17:00, good for #84 on the list. Eminger plays 9:58, which is #109 on the list (out of 111 total). Eminger’s ice time aside (we touched on this yesterday), the Rangers have a very good ice time balance among their top-five. Staal’s absence is a big one that is not easily filled, but no NHL team can fill the void created when one of their top guys goes down long term.
No matter which way you spin it, Girardi is going to get the bulk of the minutes. He’s clearly the on-ice leader on defense, and he gets the top assignments because he’s the best shutdown defenseman on the team. There’s no disputing this, and in the playoffs there is no reason why he should be on the bench for the touch assignments. This is why his ice time is on par with last year’s minutes.
Where there are significant changes is in the distribution of the remainder of the ice time. When healthy, the Rangers have six defensemen that the coaching staff trusts. This leads to a more even distribution of ice time. Unfortunately, the Staal injury is throwing everything out of whack. This is not the same distribution as last year when the coaching staff clearly didn’t trust one of their top six. They trust their top six, but one of them is out.
Until Staal comes back, you will see some skewing of the ice time. That said, it is nowhere near as extreme as last year, and that’s a good thing for a long playoff run.