Good news folks, Derek Stepan is almost ready to return for injury. Figured I may as well lead with that.
The six defensemen that started for the Rangers on opening night: Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Dan Boyle, Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Klein, John Moore. Only the first two will dress tonight, and may be the only two that dress for the next four games. No matter what side of the fence you fall on regarding Girardi/Anton Stralman, or Staal, or Klein, or Moore, you recognize that this is a significant problem.
Boyle went down first with a broken hand two periods into the season. Then Moore was suspended for five games. Then over the weekend the club lost McDonagh for 4-6 weeks with a separated shoulder and Klein for at least one game with a foot contusion. Saying that this situation isn’t ideal is a drastic understatement.
The Rangers are looking at reuniting Staal and Girardi as the top pairing. In reality, they are best served as a second pairing, since the #fancystats don’t favor either player, and Girardi’s lack of foot speed is being exploited fairly often. But no matter which way you look at it, Girardi’s part cyborg, so he gets the benefit of the doubt from me. Staal and Girardi can fake it as a top pairing. They are the least of my concerns.
Matt Hunwick and Mike Kostka are now the second pairing on defense. Hunwick has been a decent surprise this year, and has held his own. But, his career numbers aren’t promising –he’s been a 7D his entire career, an up and down guy– and the #fancystats aren’t fun to look at. Kostka is in the same boat. This is usually your fourth pairing, not your second.
Conor Allen and Dylan McIlrath, just recalled yesterday, will likely be your third pairing tonight. There’s not enough information at the NHL level to make a valid conclusion, but now is their biggest test. If Allen can at least mimic Moore and McIlrath mimic Klein, I’ll call that a draw. All things considered, I wouldn’t be surprised if they surpassed those expectations.
With Allen, his biggest strength is his ability to move the puck. If he can do half of what Stralman did (continually make smart, short passes in the zone that move the puck up), then I’ll be happy. As for McIlrath, I’m intrigued to see how he does against NHL competition. His skating is not his strength, but solid positioning and smart plays with the puck can tilt the ice in his favor.
We may be in for a rough few games. Henrik Lundqvist is going to need to bail the team out this week. Maybe we can luck out, and Allen/McIlrath can fake it as a second pairing for a short period of time. I highly doubt they can be worse than Hunwick/Kostka. But for the next few games, the blue line will look like a preseason lineup.