Yes it has been only two games of this season, so nothing is set in stone in terms of performance, but there are some reasons for concern based on the defensive coverage the Rangers have shown so far. Thinking the best way to discuss this is to take on each person’s play individually and then seek to come up with pairings and or ideas going forward after. After the jump I will do just that, so come join me.
Marc Staal - seems to have rebounded from a slow preseason to be back to his regular form as our defensive stopper, eating up chunks of minutes and not really caring who his defensive partner is. Staal has been solid in carrying the puck some more early on and chipping in a few assists in the first couple of games. I expect Staal to keep up his shutdown defense throughout the year and if he keeps progressing his offensive game a season of 10-12 goals and 28-32 assists is not a crazy thought.
Dan Girardi – Overall Girardi has been solid though he does seem to have a couple moments each game where either he thinks too or his brain goes on reboot and it is like he is frozen out there. He too is chipping in on the offensive end with a goal and two assists, but more importantly than just the numbers he seems a more willing shooter and is getting it on net. If Girardi takes approximately 200 shots this year instead of the roughly 125 he has taken the last 3 years then there is no reason to think he can’t get 10-12 goals and plenty more chances for deflections and rebound goals.
Michal Rozsival – Has been pretty solid in the first two games, especially considering with Redden gone he is the new defensive whipping boy for any mistake he makes. He still rushes too much inside his own zone, but his overall play has been respectable, especially being against the top lines being paired with Marc Staal so far. Rozi is still very frustrating to watch on the power play because he has an excellent shot and simply refuses to use it. He is also good for a couple plays a game where the puck will somehow jump over his stick, but overall his veteran experience is necessary on this back line.
Michael Del Zotto – Of all the D-men currently on the club MDZ might be the one that sparks the most differential in opinion and it is not about his potential, but where he is right now. There is no debate about the offensive weapon that he is already and the upside of what he can become on that side of the puck frankly is scary. As a fantasy guy this year the ceiling on MDZ is probably in that second tier of guys as he can hit 50 points, with plenty of those coming on the power play, but since we are not talking fantasy let’s talk about defense.
It is on the other side of the puck where the debate goes on, partially on how bad it is and partially one what is the “cause” for it. There is no doubt that some of MDZ’s defensive deficiencies are caused by both his young age and his inexperience at this level. The place where of contention is that those things alone or even in conjunction with his offensive exploits can be used to excuse his defensive deficiencies. If plays that he makes were made by anyone else on our blue line people would be calling for their heads to role and for me the issue isn’t the skill because he has the skill to be much better defensively it is understanding that side of the puck. This is not about one play in this game or last game because every one of the Ranger defenders, even NHL defenders is going to have those plays happen at some point, look at Tyler Myers falling on his own and giving the puck to Anisimov as a prime example. Del Zotto's biggest problem is his positioning and after that while he is very good at the hip check and likes to hit the problem for me is that he is so focused on big hits that he takes himself out of the play and many times creates odd man situations behind the big hit.
I am not at all suggesting that MDZ be benched or certainly not traded, but if we had the man power I would move him down so he can play against weaker competition, get that experience and maybe even some defensive confidence so the poise he shows on the offensive end can at least begin to grow on the other side of the ice. Problem with that is we don’t even have a 3rd pair LD the way they are running things, let alone someone to move up and play top 4 in MDZ’s spot.
Michael Sauer – Sauer is and will always be a defense first defenseman and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that in my opinion. He will hit, bring a little nasty and make solid plays in his own end which is exactly what a 3rd pair D is supposed to do. Some might think if you don’t notice Sauer that he isn’t doing anything, but I take the exact opposite approach because to me it means he is doing his job and there is nothing to notice. I think he is capable of more than just the 13 minutes he has been getting through the first couple and the staff has shown some confidence in him by letting him kill penalties in big spots thus far.
Steve Eminger – I would like to just say he sucks and move on, but I guess I should go further and say his play has been pretty hideous and the unnecessary penalties certainly do not help his case. For those that thought he wasn’t being given a fair shot by fans based on his preseason I certainly hope that you have seen enough in these two games to know the impressions many of us had were warranted and he should be gone or at least not dressing anymore.
Matt Gilroy – I liked what I saw out of Gilroy in his growth on the defensive side of the puck during the preseason and his offensive potential is always going to be alluring to many. Apparently he has been scratched because Eminger is the best of the final three on the left side, but if that is the case we are in some serious trouble. I am hopeful that Gilroy will get a chance on Friday to play in the home opener, but as I figured before the season I expect this to be his last with the Rangers. Interesting proposition is that with all these guys making it through waivers it is tough to believe that Gilroy would get claimed with his 1.75 cap hit, so if he isn’t going to play partially cause he cant play the left side why not send him down, let him play and call up Ryan McDonagh who can play the left side with Sauer.
Ryan McDonagh – Since I brought up Ryan McDonagh I guess I should follow through on it as while many did not think he had a spectacular preseason I see a player similar to Sauer in that not being noticed is a good thing. What I like most about McDonagh’s game is that unlike most of our guys he doesn’t panic with the puck in his own end and he makes simple plays. The coaching staff under Mike Eaves at the University of Wisconsin instills an understanding of fundamentals that aides their guys in the transition to the NHL as we have seen not in the goal scoring of Derek Stepan in his debut but in his awareness and propensity to make the right play or be in the right spot. McDonagh would be a rookie and so there would be growing pains, but part of the reason I was so adamant in my desire to see him make the club to start the year is because his defensive play gives him the ability to quickly move up in terms of the competition he can play against and maybe reduce the burden on a Del Zotto. Regardless I don’t see this kind of move happening in the near future.
Staal and Rozsival play solid when they are together so personally I have no problem with them together if we are looking at it strictly on how they pair. The problem with putting them together though is that Girardi and Del Zotto do not pair well together. For Staal it doesn’t make a huge difference which guy is on his other side, but for Del Zotto there is a huge if unexpected improvement when he plays with Rozsival as opposed to Girardi. I would go back to basics as many have suggested for now.