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Category: Defense

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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Stralman rewarding management with play

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America

When the Rangers inked Anton Stralman to his one-year deal last season, many looked at it as a great low risk option to help round out the defense. After spending the first month of the season attempting to prove himself to the coaching staff, Stralman eventually saw top-four minutes while filling in for the injured Michael Sauer and recovering Marc Staal. He earned himself a two-year, $3.4 million deal in the offseason with his strong play.

In the salary cap age, getting a bang for your buck is one of the most important factors in offseason decisions. Stralman doubled his salary, and now is carrying an almost $2 million cap hit. With that increased salary comes increased expectations. At a bare minimum, Stralman would have to repeat his performance last season –specifically in the playoffs– to be “worth” that contract. It took an injury for him to showcase his talent, but the young defenseman showed that Slats anc company made the right decision to retain him.

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Gilroy earning coach’s trust, more ice time

Source: Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images North America

Source: Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images North America

Matt Gilroy may not be the most complete defensemen. In fact, he isn’t a top-four defenseman at all. But this isn’t the same Matt Gilroy that came to the Rangers after college and was immediately exploited for not being NHL ready. Gilroy has some NHL experience under his belt now and it’s showing, as Torts has been playing Gilroy over ten minutes per game in the absence of Dan Girardi.

It’s interesting to see Gilroy getting the playing time over veteran Steve Eminger, but it’s clear the coaching staff has seen something in Gilroy’s game that is making them rely on him more than Eminger or Stu Bickel. Gilroy isn’t without his flaws, as he does have many, but he brings more to the lineup –specifically against teams that skate well– than the other two spares.

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Dan Girardi’s absence heightens need for defensive depth

Girardi's injury really heightens the depth hole.

Girardi’s injury really heightens the depth hole.

With Dan Girardi out for his second straight game, the Rangers deployed the bottom pairing of Steve Eminger and Matt Gilroy against the Islanders. Against the Devils, it was Gilroy paired with Stu Bickel. Suffice it to say, that bottom pairing not only isn’t scaring people, it’s a legitimate concern and liability on the ice. Torts knows this, and it’s a reason why the Bickel/Eminger duo only received three and five minutes each in their respective games. Gilroy played a minimum of ten minutes.

While it’s clear that Gilroy has cemented himself as a bottom pairing defenseman for the time being, it’s equally clear that the Rangers have no depth on the blue line. They are rolling with five defensemen, and another injury would cripple the club. Considering how much Torts leans on his top four guys, another injury isn’t exactly out of the question.

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Rangers continue to seek one basic player trait

Taylor Pyatt has been the one exception to an almost universal rule

Taylor Pyatt has been the one exception to an almost universal rule

Countless factors go into individual player evaluations, but one quality continues to dictate how the Rangers construct their roster: speed.

It’s not exactly a new revelation, the altered NHL demands that players possess speed and skill as the league has phased out the plodding physical specimens that were impact players in the 1990s. But few franchises have put as strong an emphasis on skating ability as New York. Just look at three of the team’s most recent first-round picks: Chris Kreider, JT Miller and Brady Skjei. What do all have in common? Tremendous skating ability.

There’s simply no room on Broadway, especially under coach John Tortorella, for players that can’t outskate the opposition.

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