Monday, November 14, 2011

When Stralman Plays Should Rangers Sit Woywitka or Eminger?

Given the New York Rangers current six game winning streak it is hard to see coach John Tortorella changing anything in terms of the lineup, but shortly there will be a decision to make on defense.  Anton Stralman was signed to play and add to the offense from the blue line and while he is still being worked into the system his shot is coming soon.  The question is whether it will be Jeff Woywitka or Eminger will be the one to take a seat in the press box.

Eminger brings more to the team physically than Woywitka does and given his history with the club Tortorella trusts him more if the team needs a third pair player to move up into a top four role.  Eminger also has been given more of an opportunity to kill penalties, which is a role that they are unlikely to use Stralman in, so that is another advantage for him in the direct competition.

However Woywitka has outplayed Eminger in the totality of the season and should be given every opportunity to keep his job even when Stralman moves into the lineup.  Obviously the question of which third pair defender stays in the lineup should be rather inconsequential with the way the Rangers use their defenders in terms of ice time.

Are New York Rangers Equal To Current Record?

The New York Rangers are riding high on a current six game winning streak to push their record to 9-3-3 through 15 games.  The record has the team only two points behind Pittsburgh for the top spot in the Eastern Conference with two games in hand.  The results through 15 games are impressive without question, but is the team really as good as the record would indicate?

The play of the team within games would say that they aren’t up to the level of their current record, but something is to be said for getting points when your team is not playing their best hockey.  The law of averages however would suggest that you will then get the flip side in losing games when you do outplay the opposition, so where does that settle out for the Rangers?  Are they legitimate threats for a division title this year?

The holes can be obvious at times with the lack of 60 minute efforts, missing a All-Star defender and streaky offensive output.  However, there is consistency and stability in the goaltending, top offensive players contributing and Dan Girardi spearheading a defensive group that is exceeding expectations.  It is a dichotomy because you don’t know whether the good can remain where it has been or if the bad will turn itself around as the season progresses.  The Rangers need both their stars to play to their ability level and their grinders to return to last season’s form.

Marian Gaborik is certainly doing his part with an unbelievable start having nine goals and six assists already to erase the doubts that arose during last season’s subpar performance.  Dan Girardi is proving once again why he is one of the most underrated defenders in the league as he has taken hold of the top spot in Marc Staal’s absence.  Along with Girardi, Ryan McDonagh has reached another level in his development playing huge minutes against the opposition’s top lines and adding offense to his shutdown defending of last season.  Richards, Callahan and Dubinsky will get the numbers they are supposed to when the season is over while Stepan and Anisimov, at least right now, appear poised to exceed the levels expected coming into the season.  The question offensively is will the Rangers get enough on a game in game out basis as opposed to the explosions in certain games followed by droughts of the past few seasons.

Defensively the questions come from the wear of a full season at the type of minutes Girardi and McDonagh are being asked to shoulder right now and if more time for the bottom pairing will expose them more than they have already been this year.

The power play is certainly still a work in progress, but it has shown signs of life and comfort with it will only grow as the season goes along.  Injuries are always a factor, but the Rangers have done as well as any team in surviving losses within the lineup and getting results.

The tools are there for the Rangers to contend given the record they have thus far, but the play will have to rise to that level in order for them to be legit as the season moves along.