Tonight the Rangers play against the Leafs and the course of tonight’s game could have a significant influence on the immediate and long term outlook of the Rangers defense and its components. The Rangers have struggled in their own zone thus far, particularly in front of their own net. The lack of a third left sided defenceman has begun to be exposed and the first consequence is that the bottom pair is re-shuffled tonight. Matt Gilroy comes in for his season debut and slides to the left with Eminger going to the right. The scratching of Mike Sauer is harsh but he is a victim of his own inflexibility. The young blueliner had started the season reasonably well but cannot play left side at all (apparently) so it came down to which square peg fitted best into the round hole.
So how does tonight’s game affect the blue line long term? Effectively both Gilroy and Eminger are on trial. Veteran acquisition Eminger has brought nothing to the team thus far and if Gilroy looks comfortable on the left side it isn’t unlikely that Sauer comes back on the right to re-take his spot in the line up, the one he deserved to keep. That puts Eminger on the block and certainly on the outside looking in. If Gilroy and Eminger both struggle tonight, in the short to midterm we may see a totally new bottom pair. The Rangers will need to hope Ryan McDonagh’s development is a quick one as the Rangers may need to bring up McDonagh quicker than most anticipated when he was sent to Hartford. The battle on the blue line promised during pre-season to be intriguing and it certainly is. Last year the Rangers had an Achilles heel at the back up goaltending position which bothered them all year. This year’s Achilles heel could be the bottom defense pair. It is a situation the Rangers need to analyse and deal with quickly.
This season Sather has shown he will send players down to Hartford if they cannot perform or are surplus to requirements. Steve Eminger seems at risk on the D while if Matt Gilroy doesn’t take his chance (despite having to play out of position) it’s not inconceivable to imagine him being put up for grabs in the search for veteran help. The Rangers would be best served with Gilroy and Sauer making the third pair their own (for the season) with McDonagh serving a convenient apprenticeship with the Wolf Pack all season long. Starting tonight we’ll see if the Rangers can make the third pair anything but an inconvenience.