Before we get to the report card for the Rangers blueline, let’s remember this: the Rangers enjoyed a spectacular season bested by only two teams in the entire league. A huge part of this success was because of the Rangers blueline. With that said, let’s look at the grades for the Rangers defensemen.
(p.s. if you missed it, here’s the Suit’s take on the top six scoring forwards this season – enjoy.)
For a significant part of the season Dan Girardi played like a Norris Trophy candidate. He was that good. Girardi enjoyed his finest season for the Rangers. With 29 points, a plus 13 rating, being an absolute work horse like few other in the entire league not to mention all the shot blocking, Dan Girardi literally does it all for the Rangers.
Aside from a very occasional stumble in the latter half of the season the only things that perhaps stop Girardi from being the perfect all round defenseman are his shooting percentage and lack of presence on the power play (1 goal). I really had to nitpick when trying to criticise Dan Girardi for this post. He is a richly deserved 2012 NHL All Star. Mid-season: A+/Full Season: A+/Playoffs: A+
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The Rangers were able to gut out a 3-0 win today against the New Jersey Devils to take a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference Final. The Blueshirts won despite 40 minutes of sub-par play, due to the absolute brilliance of Henrik Lundqvist, who finished with 36 saves. In a weird way, this game almost mirrored Game 1 in every way. A less than spectacular performance through two periods while keeping the game scoreless, followed by a Dan Girardi goal early in third, Chris Kreider giving the Rangers some breathing room and an empty netter. Let’s break this bad boy down…
- After Marian Gaborik drew a hooking penalty on Bryce Salvador early in the third, the power play went to work. There really isn’t much to break down on this one. Brad Richards won the draw in the offensive zone and Girardi slid into the slot to retrieve the puck and fired a laser past Marty Brodeur. There was very little traffic in front, Girardi just beat Marty clean for a much needed goal after the way the team played for the first two periods.
- John Mitchell started this play off with a fantastic, hard-working shift. He was able to get the puck deep into the offensive zone and try to kick-start the cycle. Cally got the puck around the boards up to McDonagh at the point, and McD fired on shot towards the net. Chris Kreider was in perfect position for a nice little deflection past Brodeur to widen the gap just a bit. With the way Lundqvist was playing, it seemed like the nail in the coffin for New Jersey. Read more »
You’d think a Rangers related blog would champion the last line of defense more than most. However the last line of defense – the goaltender – isn’t everything. Despite being a Hart and Vezina finalist, despite being the best goaltender on the planet this season, Henrik Lundqvist still needs a quality blueline in front of him to succeed, as does any successful goalie for that matter. It is this consideration however, why the Rangers should feel confident they can handle the surprisingly strong Devils in the conference finals.
Why you ask? Look at the Capitals. They had a former Norris candidate, blueline scoring machine in Mike Green start to rediscover his form in the Rangers series. They had two future studs in Karl Alzner and John Carlson and a quality top four defenseman in Dennis Wideman. They had a deep defense, one of the few that on paper can match the Rangers unit. Then, behind that defense they had a solid netminder. While the Rangers never tested Braden Holtby enough, part of the reason they got so little rubber on net was what was because of what was in front of him.
Of course Braden Holtby is not Marty Brodeur. The Devil is a legend at his position who is enjoying an Indian summer. That said Marek Zidlicky, Andy Greene, Peter Harrold, Bryce Salvador and Mark Fayne hardly comprise an intimidating defense. Would Holtby have had the same level of success without the quality that was in front of him? With all due respect, probably not.
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Undoubtedly one of the unexpected surprises for the Rangers in this post season has been Anton Stralman. Stralman had a solid regular season for the Rangers, especially given that he arrived after the pre-season. That said no one could have foreseen Stralman playing as well as he has in the playoffs thus far. It has been a massive bonus for the Rangers.
While we have discussed the likelihood of Stralman’s next contract being elsewhere before (due to probable contract demands), perhaps a point we haven’t touched upon enough is whether the Rangers should seek to retain Stralman after this season.
Stralman has ensured the poor play of Stu Bickel hasn’t been too costly this off season. He has provided offense and has been solid in his own end. It goes without saying that Stralman is an NHL player next season. With Dylan McIlrath and Tim Erixon progressing to the point they may be viable candidates next year (Erixon especially so) there may not be a point in bringing back Stralman. However, the Rangers possess one of the best defence’s in the league and Stralman is part of that deep group.
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So we get a lot of questions on Twitter, and it is unfortunate that we cannot always respond to every question. In an attempt to address the most popular questions, we are going to start with these “Twitter Bag” posts, where we answer some of the more consistent questions we get on Twitter. We love addressing these, so keep them coming, and we will do everything we can to answer each question sent to us.
Q: Why is Stu Bickel playing still? Wouldn’t Jeff Woywitka or Steve Eminger have a better effect?
A: It’s tough to really say why Bickel is still in the lineup. He played better on Saturday with double the normal amount of ice time, but his usual three minutes don’t really give him an opportunity to be a difference maker. Tortorella likes him because of his physical ability, which is something that neither Woywitka nor Eminger really have. Eminger is ahead of Woywitka on the depth chart, so we can essentially eliminate Woywitka from the occasion (barring injury). In terms of ability, Eminger is a marginally better skater than Bickel, but it is clear Torts likes the latter. I think the club can benefit from having someone like Eminger take more than three minutes of ice time, but only if Torts trusts him to do so.
Q: Why did Torts bench Chris Kreider? Isn’t that sending the wrong message?
A: I’m in the minority that agrees with the benching. The club is in a tough spot of trying to teach the kid on the fly while winning games in the playoffs. That turnover –and Hank’s flub– was the direct cause of the goal. Every other youngster that Torts has coached has seen significant time on the bench when similar mistakes are made. It would be a coaching inconsistency to not bench Kreider. Lesson learned. He won’t do it again.
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While this season the Rangers top defensemen have undoubtedly been the Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh tandem, perhaps one of the most key aspects of a successful first round series against the Ottawa Senators may be the play (and subsequent impact) of Marc Staal.
Without doubt Staal is and has been a number one defenseman but as everyone knows, injury has meant his play has taken a while to get close to his own high standards. Indeed, he’s still not the Marc Staal of old however his play has been steadily improving of late and how Staal handles the quick and tricky Senators offense could have a huge bearing on the series.
Every Ranger fan know of the team’s 1-2-1 record in the four games against the Sens this year and will be acutely aware of how the team has struggled to score against them. Amid the 14 goals credited to the Sens in the season series it perhaps went unnoticed that Girardi was a -3 in those four games while Ryan McDonagh was -1.
Both players were also held scoreless despite providing the Rangers with solid offensive seasons with 29 and 32 points respectively. Clearly neither player has produced their best performances against the Sens and therefore how guys like Mike Del Zotto, but especially Marc Staal, cope in the series will be essential. The Rangers don’t want the top pairing munching 30+ minutes a night if they have realistic designs of a deep run.
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With the recent signing/extension of Nicklas Grossman the Philadelphia Flyers achieved three things. First of all they overpaid for a good but not elite defensive defenseman, secondly they gave themselves potential cap headaches this summer with the likes of Matt Carle, Jaromir Jagr and Jakub Voracek to re-sign (headaches could disappear depending on the Pronger situation) and finally they made Glen Sather once again look like an astute general manager.
Dan Girardi has played an All Star calibre season, has been an absolute rock on the blue line and is once again close to a 30 point season proving he is effective at both ends of the ice. With that all considered, comparing his deal to Grossman’s new deal of $3.5m, Sather managed to produce a bargain with the Girardi deal.
Girardi’s deal comes in at $3.25m for another couple of seasons and his deal in addition to Marc Staal’s (a very reasonable cap hit of $3.9m when health and form allow) are blue line reasons why Sather won’t struggle to reward the likes of Mike Del Zotto and Brandon Prust this summer.
Cap Geek list Dan Girardi as a comparable to Nicklas Grossman but really comparing Girardi to the Swede in anything other than price tag is doing Girardi a disservice. Girardi is a much more rounded player than Grossman. He out hits, out blocks and out scores Grossman and very few players in the entire league play the same minutes as Girardi. Who’s worth more? Girardi without question.
Next season including Pronger, the Flyers have over 20 million committed to their blue line – quite a chunk. The Rangers, without factoring in a raise for Del Zotto and adding another defenseman ‘only’ have approximately 10 million committed to their blue line. I know which blue line I would rather have right now. Keep up the good work this summer Mr Sather.
With Dan Girardi tiring in the last few games (not a criticism) and Marc Staal clearly still struggling for consistency following his return, has Ryan McDonagh emerged as the Rangers best defenseman?
It’s a valid question and perhaps just another way of heaping praise on McDonagh for the way he has developed since his call up midway in to last year. A lot of people don’t pay much attention to the plus/minus statistic but even the biggest critic of that stat has to acknowledge McDonagh’s impressive +39 over his first 112 NHL games. That’s more than just being on the ice at the right time.
McDonagh is still learning and he’s still making mistakes; he’s not perfect. The way James Neal picked his pocket in the Pens game a few games ago shows that he’s certainly not perfect but he has progressed at an incredible rate.
The offensive side of McDonagh’s game has developed the most, visibly. However that is because he has such a solid foundation defensively that it allows him to get involved more at the other end. His positional play is exceptional and he takes the body with regularity. Given the style McDonagh plays he doesn’t take a huge amount of penalties and he fits in Tortorella’s system perfectly.
McDonagh has become a minute muncher. He’s playing a shade under 25 a game and while unfortunate for Marc Staal, the absence of Staal has been a blessing in disguise for McDonagh’s development. Nobody could have foreseen this rate of progress and it probably wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for a Staal brother collision last season.
It’s hard not to be excited about the Rangers future given how the club is being built the ‘right way’ (from the goal out). There’s an embarrassment of riches developing in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Staal, Girardi, McDonagh and Del Zotto highlight a corps that still has Mike Sauer as well as Tim Erixon and Dylan McIlrath in the wings. There’s not another club in the entire league (outside of Nashville) that can boast that kind of pipeline on the blue line. And we said all this without finding a way to thank Bob Gainey again. Oops.
So, is McD the Rangers best defenseman right now? It’s hard to argue against him. When healthy, a valid case can be made for Del Zotto with the way his game has developed this year but either way the Rangers are sitting pretty with a 21 and 22 year old leading the charge to the post season.
Two little tidbits hit the news waves this morning. First, as said here on Monday, Rangers prospects Andrew Yogan and Peter Ceresnak have officially joined the Connecticut Whale. Both are on ATO’s, which means that Ceresnak can return to the OHL next year. Yogan is playing for his Rangers career, and will need to earn an entry level contract.
The other news is that Dan Girardi is the Rangers nominee for the Bill Masterton trophy, which awards the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. Past Rangers who have won the trophy include Jean Ratelle (1970-71), Rob Gilbert (1975-76), Anders Hedberg (1984-85), and Adam Graves (2000-01).
At what stage – if any – should John Tortorella consider resting Rangers for a game or two with the playoffs approaching? It’s a key consideration for the coach as particularly in the recent stretch of games some players have started to evidence wear and tear from the long season, probably because of the way this blue collar Rangers team play the game.
The issue of rest is a tricky one because of the hard charging and getting healthy Penguins (winners of seven straight), the benefits securing home ice advantage throughout the playoffs would provide and, don’t discount organisational pressure/desire toward securing home ice and the associated financial advantages an extra game or two would mean. Points mean prizes folks.
Dan Girardi has looked mortal over the last few games. His turnover that led to Jordan Caron’s goal in the Boston game was very un-Dan Girardi and it may have been the result of mental fatigue. Girardi almost always makes the right decision, the sensible decision. In that instance he misread the play and tossed it through center ice – we saw the result.
That said Girardi isn’t the only one who has begun to look jaded. The team generally has been scrambling a lot, has been handsomely outshot in their recent 1-1-1 streak and look perhaps a step off the pace. This team gets away with it and continues to rack up results because they never give in and the effort level is always high. However, once a tank is running on empty there is only so long even the hardest working team can go on.
Players like Dan Girardi and Brandon Prust don’t voluntarily take a seat. They play through pain so a ‘rest break’ would be foreign to them. If anyone takes a seat it will be because the coach has told them to. Not an easy situation to negotiate.
There could be benefits from any rest, aside from the health factor. If a few Rangers sat for a game or two it might allow the team to give more NHL experience to the likes of Tim Erixon at the back or a final gauge of whether Zuccarello can cut it with the Rangers up front; with injuries in deep playoff runs so frequent having potential call ups recently involved in the NHL could be beneficial; plenty to think about for the coaching staff.
Fantasy hockey fanatics out there will worry about Henrik Lundqvist too. Probably the easiest and most likely position to justify an extended break would be in goal. If the Rangers can maintain a healthy lead in the division heading in to the last week or two there’s a good chance Biron sees a few games more than he normally would – a refreshing change to when the Rangers have had to rely on Lundqvist just to get in to the playoffs. A well rested King come playoff time? Sign me up.