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Category: Defense

Until Marc Staal comes back, the defense will struggle against deep teams

Al Bello/NYDN

Al Bello/NYDN

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.

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The Rangers do not have a single player averaging over 27 minutes of ice time

Photo Credit: US Presswire

Photo Credit: US Presswire

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.

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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.

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John Moore getting more comfortable in Rangers’ system

Photo: New York Times

Photo: New York Times

When the Rangers traded Marian Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the deadline this year, the concern was adding more grit and toughness to the lineup.  Having already added Ryane Clowe, the attention turned to what Derick Brassard and Derek Dorsett bring to the group.  John Moore was something of a mystery player.  He wasn’t a throw in by any stretch, but he was a player that most of the fan base was unfamiliar with, and thus has no idea what we were getting back in the former first round pick from Chicago (hometown, not drafting team).

During his abbreviated tenure in New York (eight games, to be exact), Moore has been impressive.  It’s becoming clear that he is becoming more comfortable in the system and is starting to make some really intelligent hockey decisions to go along with his raw tools. Read more »

Ice time beginning to even out

Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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).

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Could Del Zotto get suspended?

In the third period of last night’s shootout loss to the Penguins, Michael Del Zotto caught James Neal with an elbow to the jaw behind the Rangers net (video above). Del Zotto said on MSG after the game that he was trying to brace himself for a hit, but the contact was a bit awkward, as it looked like Del Zotto was already past Neal, and stuck his right arm out.

Del Zotto doesn’t have a suspension history, or a history of dirty plays. As I watch this video (you can’t really watch it in slow-mo, everything happens in real-time, not slow-mo) it looks like MDZ does throw that elbow, but his back is to Neal so it’s hard to say whether he was intentionally aiming for him.

The league will need to make a decision fast, as the Rangers play tonight.

Update: Elliotte Friedman tweets that there will be no hearing for Del Zotto

Del Zotto returning to form

Del Zotto has been solid lately, much needed by the Rangers

Del Zotto has been solid lately, much needed by the Rangers

It won’t be a popular topic with many Rangers fans, but Michael Del Zotto has quietly gone about playing some very good hockey since returning from his injury. This return to form is also coinciding with the Rangers recent strong run, which is no coincidence.

Del Zotto’s form has been overshadowed by Ryan McDonagh’s own return to form, Marc Staal’s injury, Rick Nash’s free scoring ways and the partial re-emergence of a powerplay that has begun to make a positive difference once again (finally?). Perhaps this is the best way for Del Zotto. He gets the opportunity to float under the radar, and have the attention focused elsewhere.

In not being blamed for every defensive error committed by the Rangers, and partially forgotten about on the offensive side of the puck, Del Zotto has had the opportunity to play himself back in to form in relative peace and quiet. While other players take the plaudits, Del Zotto has gotten better.

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With Hamrlik comes ice time balance

Hamrlik brings balance to the force.

Hamrlik brings balance to the force.

Last night, Roman Hamrlik made his Rangers debut just hours after being claimed off waivers. Harmlik did not register a point, he was not on the ice for any goals, and he only recorded one shot on goal and one hit. But, Hamrlik instantly made the Rangers better. Yes, Marc Staal is out, and Hamrlik pretty much represented the only option. But regardless of Staal’s presence in the lineup, Hamrlik balances out this team.

For weeks now, we’ve seen Torts juggle between Stu Bickel, Steve Eminger, and Matt Gilroy on the bottom defense pairing. Very rarely did any of them see more than ten minutes per game. Last night, Hamrlik played 15 minutes (as did Eminger). With Hamrlik, the Rangers finally have a bottom defense pairing that the coach can rely on. Those extra five minutes means five minutes of extra rest for Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Del Zotto, and Anton Stralman.

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Could McIlrath be rushed to New York?

Time for McIlrath to put the sweater on? (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Time for McIlrath to put the sweater on? (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

With the injuries mounting in New York and the likes of Stu Bickel and Steve Eminger clearly not enjoying the trust of John Tortorella, could we see first round pick and great white hope, Dylan McIlrath rushed to New York? With a nickname like the Undertaker and a (listed) 6-5, 220 lb frame, McIlrath has the potential to be an imposing defenseman.

As seen by the recent inclusion of Christian Thomas, and to a lesser extent Chris Kreider and JT Miller, readiness may not be the priority but rather the necessity of numbers and positional relevance. If you’re going to have to fill the roster you may as well fill it with players with upside. Clearly the Rangers hope Dylan McIlrath will fulfill his talent and draft status in upcoming seasons. He may get a chance sooner rather than later.

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Do the Rangers have a Norris trophy candidate?

No, Girardi and Staal are not brothers. They are elite defensemen.

No, Girardi and Staal are not brothers. They are elite defensemen.

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.

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