Something that was very obvious during yesterday’s loss was that the Rangers defense had a lot of trouble matching up and shutting down the Bruins forwards. Prior to the series, coach John Tortorella swapped his defense pairings to prepare for a much deeper Bruins club. In doing so, he split up Dan Girardi/Ryan McDonagh, and put Girardi with Michael Del Zotto.
Let’s be clear about one thing, Del Zotto is a top-four defenseman in this league. He’s a top-50 guy, which puts him in the upper echelon of second pairing defensemen. He’s not perfect, he’s not going to do well against the top scorers in the league, but he will be able to hold his own. That said, the pairing of Del Zotto/Girardi has never worked. It didn’t work two years ago, it didn’t work last year, it won’t work this year.
Neither defenseman is perfect, and both have flaws that can be easily exploited by smart teams. We saw this last night. Girardi was on the ice for all five goals, and MDZ for four. We can spend all day pointing out how the Bruins did it, but that isn’t the point of this post.
Marc Staal’s absence leaves a gaping hole that the Rangers are not able to fill. Staal’s presence in the lineup gives the Rangers four top-four defensemen, five if you count Anton Stralman as a bottom-tier second pairing (or top-tier third pairing). More importantly, it makes a possible Girardi-MDZ pairing unlikely to occur.
The fact here is that the Rangers aren’t properly equipped to deal with a deep Bruins club on the blue line while Staal is out of the lineup. It’s not that the replacement (Steve Eminger) is playing poorly (he’s not), it’s that he’s not Marc Staal. The Rangers are a rare team that has three top-pairing defensemen, and has relied on them heavily. Take one out of the lineup, and they have trouble matching up on deeper teams.
There are many problems facing this club at the moment, but the biggest one is the absence of the only Staal not in the Carolina organization. It’s created one giant matchup problem for the Rangers, one that simply can’t be fixed until he returns. Of course, it would be nice if we stopped seeing that Girardi/MDZ pairing while Staal’s out. Just my two cents.