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Posts tagged: Jeff Woywitka

Twitter Bag: Stu Bickel, the powerplay, and more

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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Wolski, Woywitka recalled from conditioning stints

Per the AHL transaction page, both Wojtek Wolski and Jeff Woywitka have been recalled following their two-week conditioning stints. Both guys got into six games with the Whale, with Wolski scoring three goals. He should step right back into the lineup tomorrow with Ruslan Fedotenko banged up, but Woywitka will probably have to sit on the sidelines a little longer. With any luck, Wolski will show something over the next few games and fetch something useful at the trade deadline.

Woywitka, Wolski Sent To Connecticut For Conditioning

Per Katie Strang, the Rangers have assigned Jeff Woywitka and Wojtek Wolski to the Connecticut Whale of the AHL on a two week conditioning stint. This is to get them into some games so that they are not rusty, as neither has played much recently. Woywitka hasn’t played since December 30, and Wolski since January 15. Both had been serving as injury replacements in the lineup when need be.

Woywitka and Wolski are the second and third Rangers to be assigned to CT on a conditioning stint. Erik Christensen was assigned last month and has since completed his stint.

Halfway There Report Card: The Defense

With the halfway point of the season upon us (for the most part), and the Rangers in first place, it’s as good of a time as any to begin with the mid-point report cards. We are going to do these in a series of posts, with Chris covering the top six forwards, Suit covering the bottom six forwards, Justin covering the goalies, and myself covering the defense.

The Rangers have used a whopping 11 defensemen since the season started. This is mostly due to the Marc Staal injury, but other injuries along the way have forced the Rangers’ hand. Despite the obvious disadvantage, the Rangers have allowed just 82 goals against, good for second in the league. The Bruins top this, but let’s be honest: The Bruins are in a class above everyone else right now.  Let’s get to those grades:

Marc Staal: He’s played just a handful of games. Everyone knows he’s the rock on defense, and the Rangers just upgraded tremendously with him coming back. Grade: INC.

Dan Girardi: With Staal out indefinitely, the blue line was put in Girardi’s hands…and boy did he deliver. Girardi has been flawless in his own end. He plays the most minutes in the entire league, he plays against top competition, he consistently shuts down that top opposition, he has been contributing offensively, and he has been a leader for this young Rangers team. Grade: A+.

Ryan McDonagh: Staal’s injury opened up a spot for McDonagh on the top pairing, and he has been sensational in that role. He and Girardi have clicked, and aside from a few poor games, McDonagh has been a monster. Rick Carpiniello of LoHud calls him McMonster, and that’s exactly what he is. Throw in his growing offensive skills, and this sophomore defenseman has been a tremendous pickup. Thank you Mr. Gomez. Grade: A.

Michael Del Zotto: Another player that was forced to play up a pairing due to injury, Del Zotto has also been phenomenal. He leads the defensemen in scoring, and is fifth on the team in that same category with 23 points (5-18-23). He leads the team in assists, plus/minus, fan girls, and haters. Seriously, what else does this kid need to do? Sure, he makes a bad pass every now and then, but he’s 22 years old. I’ll take this from a 22 year old any day. Grade: A.

Mike Sauer: Currently out with a concussion, Sauer was the rock on the blue line that most thought was the reason for Del Zotto’s re-emergence.  Although Del Zotto has succeeded without Sauer in the lineup, Sauer is still an integral part of the Rangers blue line. He doesn’t put up the fancy numbers that Del Zotto does, he doesn’t garner the All Star consideration that Girardi does, but he just does his job. The best thing you can say about a defensive defenseman is that you don’t notice him, and rarely does Sauer go noticed. Grade: A.

Steve Eminger: Eminger had an atrocious start to the year. He just couldn’t do anything right, and was a bit of a whipping boy ’round these parts. However, when Sauer went down with his concussion, Emmy stepped up. Much like last year with the Michal Rozsival injury, Eminger assumed top four minutes and played like a champ. His start hurts his grade, but he gets significant bonus points for his ability to play up to his role, no matter what. His injury was supposed to be the one that crippled the Rangers, who were already without Staal and Sauer, but it didn’t. Grade: B.

Jeff Woywitka:Serviceable, reliable, tough, and surprisingly reliable. Much like Eminger, Woywitka was a whipping boy here after his poor start to the season. However, unlike Eminger, he played better as he got used to the John Tortorella way of life, and has been a great bottom pairing guy since. Maybe he has received too much ice time because of injuries, but the Rangers sure haven’t noticed. Kudos to Woywitka for persevering, and earning his continued stay with the Blueshirts. Grade: B.

Anton Stralman: Signed as a free agent a few weeks into the season, no one knew what to expect from Stalman. After a few weeks with the team, it was clear that Tortorella wasn’t a big fan, a point confirmed on HBO’s 24/7 last week. However as he has played, he has grown into a player that is not only reliable, but someone that Tortorella can play top-four minutes without hesitation. Stralman has been paired with Del Zotto, and both have flourished. Martin Biron might be the best offseason acquisition in a while, but the signing of Stralman might be the most underappreciated. Grade: A-.

Stu Bickel: The last man cut from the blue line in the preseason, Bickel earned a call up following Eminger’s separated shoulder and Woywitka’s bruised foot forced the Rangers’ hand. Bickel has been a physical presence on the blue line that has rarely made a mistake. He’s still a rookie, and yes his mistakes have and will come, but the Rangers couldn’t have asked for more from him. With Sauer out, Bickel has replaced that physicality that was sorely missing. Grade: B+.

Tim Erixon: He played in the beginning of the year when Sauer was out, and most recently while Woywitka was out. It’s clear he’s still not ready for the big show, but he’s a promising young defenseman that has done many things right. He’s only played 13 games, but it’s apparent the Rangers have a serious NHL player on their hands. Grade: INC.

Brendan Bell: Played one game. Grade: INC.

*Here is Justin’s mid-season report for the goalies & Suit’s report for our bottom six forwards. Stay tuned for reports on our top 6 forwards and our coaches.

Changes Are Coming On The Blue Line

Not sure if you guys caught this, but Marc Staal returned to the lineup in dramatic fashion, just in time for the Winter Classic. Again, if you missed this, I don’t blame you, the news was sort of buried amidst the other Winter Classic hooplah.

All kidding aside, Staal’s return marked the 11th defenseman the Rangers have used this season. Stepping back, it really is remarkable how they are this good despite playing everyone except my mother on defense this season.

With Staal back in the lineup, the obvious scratch choice was Jeff Woywitka, and as expected, he was scratched for the Winter Classic. Woywitka, claimed off waivers, was essentially an insurance policy and a body to dress for games. In all fairness, he exceeded expectations and was extremely serviceable. He came in, adjusted to the new system, and played some steady third line minutes…with some hiccups of course.

Now with Mike Sauer looking like he is on the path to return –he skated with the team– the Rangers are going to need to find a place to insert him when he returns. The only realistic options for replacement are Anton Stralman and Stu Bickel, as none of Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, or Michael Del Zotto will be sitting any time soon.

Considering the current pairings, it is my guess that Bickel will be the one who sits for Sauer, when he returns. It’s nothing against the kid, who has played very well (again with some hiccups) in his call up, it’s just a numbers game. It makes more sense for Bickel to be returned to the AHL and get significant ice time than for him to sit around as the healthy scratch for weeks at a time. It is for that same reason that I expect Woywitka to stick around for a long time, at least until Steve Eminger heals.

The decisions about scratches and replacements are easy decisions. The decisions for defensive pairings however is a very tough choice. Does John Tortorella go back to his bread-and-butter pairing of Staal-Girardi? Does he leave Girardi with McDonagh and put Staal with Sauer? Does Del Zotto get matched back up with Sauer, leaving Staal to play with Stralman? These are questions that can only be answered by the coaching staff and by the players’ performance on the ice.

Personally, I would go back to ole reliable: Staal/Girardi, McDonagh/Sauer, MDZ/Stralman. That gives the Rangers two legitimate shut down pairings that also have some offensive upside, plus the surprisingly strong pairing of MDZ/Stralman to give the top four much needed rest. That leaves Eminger as the odd man out, but you would have to assume Stralman and Eminger would be rotating. Assuming those three pairings play the way that is expected and the way that they have all year, the Rangers have one of the deepest blue lines in the league.

The Rangers haven’t played a single game this season with a full strength blue line, yet they remain in first place in the conference. The Times They Are a-Changin’.

A Look At The NYR GVT/PVT Leaders

With the Rangers seemingly in cruise control heading as the season flipped to January, we have been taking the time to look at advanced metrics to determine who exactly is contributing and in what fashion. One of the overall metrics we use here, Points Versus Threshold (or PVT), has been unavailable because it is derived from Goals Versus Threshold (GVT), of which the numbers were not available until recently. Now that Hockey Prospectus has made the GVT numbers available, PVT is now available*. Just a note about the numbers: these do not include the Winter Classic or any January games.

*-Note to the HP and BTN guys: I can help you with getting these out regularly if you want. </shameless plug>

Looking at the defensive unit, which has been marred by injuries, there might be a bit of a surprise at who leads the way:

Key for the tables: GP=Games Played; OGVT=Offensive GVT; DGVT=Defensive GVT; SGVT=Shootout GVT; GVT=Overall GVT; PVT=Overall PVT

Rk Player GP OGVT DGVT SGVT GVT PVT
1 Michael Del Zotto 36 3.6 4 0 7.6 2.5
2 Ryan McDonagh 36 2.7 2 0 4.7 1.6
3 Dan Girardi 36 0.6 2.1 0 2.7 0.9
4 Anton Stralman 13 0.7 1.6 0 2.4 0.8
5 Jeff Woywitka 26 1.3 0.5 0 1.8 0.6
6 Stu Bickel 6 1 0.6 0 1.7 0.6
7 Michael Sauer 19 0 1.7 0 1.7 0.6
8 Steve Eminger 30 -0.1 0.9 0 0.8 0.3
9 Brendan Bell 1 -0.1 -0.1 0 -0.2 -0.1
10 Tim Erixon 13 -0.6 0.1 0 -0.5 -0.2

Yes folks, that is Michael Del Zotto ahead of both Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi for tops among the defensemen in PVT. Del Zotto has earned the Rangers 2.5 extra points in the standings. That is as much as both McDoangh and Girardi combined. That’s not to discount the top pairing, as they are critical to the success of the team by shutting down the opposition. It is more to play up how Del Zotto has done a complete 180 from last season.

Looking more into these numbers, don’t look too deep into Mike Sauer’s numbers. GVT and PVT are counting metrics, and since Sauer has only played 19 games, his number appears lower. When you average it out to the 36 games played, he has about a 1.1 PVT (3.3 GVT) and sits in the top three or four.

As for Steve Eminger, who sits in the bottom three with a 0.3 PVT, it shows how much he struggled early in the season. He played better as he received more minutes, but his PVT numbers suffer because of his horrendous start.

Looking at the PVT numbers, it’s easy to see why Jeff Woywitka was scratched for Marc Staal’s return, and not Stu Bickel. Bickel has the same PVT as Woywitka, but in almost 1/4 the games. That number says it all. Plus the youth and “jam” factor of course.

Analysis of the forwards after the jump

Lineup Changes Begin: Woywitka In, Erixon Out

The post-holiday roster freeze lineup changes for the Rangers have begun. Pat Leonard of the NY Daily News (who took over for Jesse Spector) tweets that Jeff Woywitka will be returning to the lineup tonight in place of rookie Tim Erixon. Woywitka was out for a few games after blocking a shot with his foot in Phoenix. It is likely that Tim Erixon, who was at the morning skate, will be returned to the Connecticut Whale following the optional skate (Update: Torts said, per Leonard, that Erixon will be with the team for a while longer because the team is on the road).

Another Update: Andrew Gross says that as long as Woywitka and Stu Bickel survive the Washington game tonight, Erixon will be returned to Connecticut.

Also, Martin Biron will get the start in net tonight (also per Leonard). This means that Henrik Lundqvist will get the Florida game before the Winter Classic.

Tim Erixon Recalled On Emergency Basis; Woywitka Banged Up

The injuries to the Rangers blue line continue to mount. Jeff Woywitka left practice early today, and as a result the Rangers called up rookie defenseman Tim Erixon, per Chris Botta. The move hasn’t formally been announced yet, nor does the AHL Transaction Log have anything on it, but it is expected to be announced shortly.

One delay in the announcement could be because of salary cap restraints, which is believed to be the reason why Erixon wasn’t called up to replace Steve Eminger (and why Stu Bickel was). In any case, Erixon is with the Rangers, but unlikely to play unless Woywitka can’t go (bruised foot from blocking a shot). The Rangers blue line is a mess, and with no changes coming in the next week, this could be a long four games.

Stalman Enters; Who Sits?

The news broke yesterday that the New York Rangers had signed defenseman Anton Stralman to a one year, $900,000 contract to fill out the blue line with Marc Staal out indefinitely. The Rangers are using the old method of “throwing stuff at the wall and see what sticks” to fill out the bottom pairing. People thrown at the wall include rookie Tim Erixon (now in the AHL), Brendan Bell (AHL), Steve Eminger (rough start), and Jeff Woywitka (four games).

None of the top four will sit, as all four have been playing extremely well. So it’s clearly between Eminger and Woywitka. Woywitka had a rough first couple of games, but played a very good game last night, and definitely has been showing improvement as each game progresses. That is a very good sign, as it shows Woywitka is learning coach John Tortorella’s system, and growing more comfortable with his transition to New York.

As for Eminger, well he has been somewhat atrocious. Without rehashing the entire post from last week, Eminger has not been able to help his team maintain possession of the puck while he is on the ice, despite facing mediocre competition at best. He has been out of position, and lacked the “jam” that made him somewhat effective last season. Simply put, he has regressed, while Woywitka has progressed. Not a good sign for Eminger.

Add to the picture that Stralman and Eminger are both righties (Woywitka is a lefty), and the cards just don’t play out for Eminger at the moment. Assuming Woywitka keeps up his strong play, it’s going to be tough to argue against sitting Eminger when Stralman joins the team. Having a spare defenseman on the roster isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it will keep those bottom guys playing hard, knowing they could be in the press box at any given moment.

Of course, the Rangers could always try some sort of rotation with Eminger, Woywitka, and Stralman at first, and see who emerges as a legitimate bottom pairing player. It’s the same method the Rangers used last year with Eminger, Mike Sauer, and Matt Gilroy. The rotation worked well, as the Rangers discovered they had a defense beast in Sauer. That’s not to say it will happen again this year, but getting them all playing time could really help identify which player –or pairing– is most effective.

Sauer In, Woywitka Out; Zuccarello Injured?

The big news from this morning is that defenseman Mike Sauer will in fact be in the lineup tonight for the New York Rangers after missing the the majority of the first seven games with a sprained shoulder. That means tha Jeff Woywitka will be the healthy scratch. In other injury news, it looks like Mike Rupp might miss tonight’s home opener with a nagging knee injury. That won’t effect the lineup too much though, if the lines below (per Katie Strang of ESPN NY) are what coach John Tortorella sticks with:

Ruslan Fedotenko-Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik
Brandon Dubinsky-Derek Stepan-Ryan Callahan
Wojtek Wolski-Brian Boyle-Brandon Prust
Erik Christensen-Artem Anisimov-Mike Rupp/Kris Newbury

It looks like one of Rupp or Newbury will be the healthy scratch against the Leafs tonight, depending on Rupp’s status. The Leafs are a tough team off to a hot start, and they are always very physical against the Rangers. The assumption with leaving Christensen in the lineup in lieu of some added toughness is to provide Anisimov with some semblance of skill on his line. Either way, it will be interesting to see how Fedotenko plays with the Richards/Gaborik connection, and how long he lasts on that top line. Expect some line juggling tonight if these don’t mesh.

In some AHL news, The New York Rangers Blog has picked up on a Norwegian website claiming that Mats Zuccarello has suffered a concussion as a result of the cheap Adam Mair hit. It is unknown how long he will be out, or the validity of the article itself. So, take it for what it’s worth.