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.

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  • All things considered, this team is deep with quality defensmen, both in the AHL, and the bigs!!!!!

    With Staal, and Sauer soon to follow, coming back into the line up, this is an exciting time to be rooting for the Big Blue. Next draft, and probably for the next two, or three, we will be drafting forwards, and goal tenders! THANK YOU GORDIE CLARK.

  • I think that the Eminger and Woywitka ratings are quite generous, but considering they are the least important guys on D at this point… it shows what nice young D the Rangers have now.

  • It’s tough to grade the guys like Woywitka, Eminger, Bickle, and Stralman. Those guys came here with very little expectations. They haven’t stood out on the blue line but they haven’t been noticable making mistakes either. You could really only grade Sauer, Mcdonagh, Girardi, and MDZ. Those guys did everything anyone could expect of them at the start of the year and more.

  • Love our blueline depth. Even if you remove Eminger, Stralman and Woywitka there are still 8 beasts or players with a good potential to be beasts on this list.

  • I might be more generous with my grade for Bickel. I just love the fact that he is willing to drop the gloves, which none of our d really do, with the exception of Sauer. He had a lot of assists and totally exceeded my expectations to the point where I’d rather have him on the team than Woywitka or Eminger any day. With this depth. I wonder if we can package some of the excess to get a scorer, or even a scoring prospect.

    • I love what Bickel brings to the table, as well as Stralman. What can one say about Eminger, the guy simply got the job done. Tough decisions are looming as to whom will play with Del Zotto. based on chemistry and team need I see it as Stralman and Bickel platooning with MDZ.
      Should the Rangers win the Stanley Cup the names of these players must be on the Cup: Eminger, Bickel, Stralman, Erixon, Woywitka, Deveaux and yes even Mr Avery as much as I am not a huge fan of his. The players who contributed to this early success must be recognized as contributors and honorary members of this team.

    • Ide say with the luck this team has had this year. There is no such thing as excess… The amount of D men the Rangers have used this year proves that… But there will come a time when the Rangers do have to make a move solely because there will be no room for them all…

  • I think the grades were all spot on. One must be graded by results not expectations. The boys in Eminger, Woywitka, Stralman and Bickel far exceeded any expectations and for many it was doom and gloom time…time to trade for Weber talk and all other conversations coming from panic and not trust.
    The team is 1st in wins, 2nd in goals against and done mainly without Staal and Sauer. Goalies obviously helped but so did the coach.
    There is only one reason this team is where it is at, they play for each other and believe in what they can do as a collective

  • I’m not sure why I’m the only person that thinks Girardi is just as good if not better than Staal. Staal and Girardi are top both top tier D-men on any team, I had no fear in Girardi taking over the D in october.

    • If I had to guess, I think people just saw that Staal’s break up plays were more “highlight reel” worthy (meaning hits leading to takeaways) vs Girardi who’s more of a shot blocker, stick positioning guy.

      But both players are fantastic and both deserve recognition.

    • I agree with you Sandy — have been saying this since 2 summers ago when I started visiting this lovely blog

  • Great write up Dave. The D have all played above and beyond expectations so far.

    I’m very disappointed in Sauer’s injury luck. It seems just when he’s getting healthy and in a groove, its something else. Can’t wait to get the blue line back to full strength for the second half.

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