by Patrick Hoffman on 01/04/11 at 09:51 PM ET
Going into the season, many hockey pundits and fans alike wondered how the New York Rangers’ defense would perform this season.
Well, almost halfway through the season, the team is currently eighth in the National Hockey League in goals against, averaging 2.55 goals against per game. Not bad for one of the youngest defensive corps in the NHL.
When it comes to the team’s defense, one constant has been Marc Staal. He blocks shots, breaks up plays, hits hard, makes great outlet passes and every once in awhile, shows that he has some offense in him. He has been the club’s best defenseman since joining the NHL in the 2007-08 season.
Defenseman Dan Girardi has also been one of the Rangers’ best defenseman since joining the team during the 2006-07 season. He logs a lot of ice, blocks a lot of shots, and has contributed 20 points (3 goals and 17 assists) from the blue line this season. When paired with Staal, they are one of the best shutdown pair of defensemen in the NHL.
When it comes to Michal Rozsival, he’s more of a Jekyll and Hyde. Some games, he’s terrific where he is making smart passes, playing his position in the defensive zone and not being afraid to his shot. Other games, it is one mistake after the other and often, these are mistakes that end up hurting hockey team. Hopefully, the rest of the season will see the former Rozsival arise.
Michael Sauer has been a terrific story for the Rangers this season. The 23-year-old has been one of the team’s more consistent blue liners as he usually plays a quiet and smart game. On the other hand, there have been some games this season where has has made mistakes but those are expected with any young defenseman. Sauer has a lot of room to grow and there is good reason to believe that he will keep on improving as this season goes on.
Steve Eminger has been a solid pick-up for the Blueshirts. He’s not afraid to use the body and for the Rangers, he provides veteran leadership on the back line.
Matt Gilroy has been a work in progress this season. Earlier on in the season, Gilroy was a healthy scratch on most nights. Head coach John Tortorella wanted him to really learn how to play the position. Gilroy has come back with a vengeance and Tortorella has said in the last two weeks on multiple occassions that he is one of the team’s top six defensemen.
Speaking of a work in progress, Michael Del Zotto fits the description. After a pretty successful rookie season last year, Del Zotto’s game has slipped considerably. He has not been smart with the puck, he’s been caught out of position and has been extremely hesitant with his outlet passes, often putting them on an opponent’s stick. Yesterday, the team sent Del Zotto down to their AHL affiliate, the Connecticut Whale. This is the wake-up call that Del Zotto needs in order to get the necessary tools to succeed in the NHL.
It will be interesting to see what call-up Ryan McDonagh will be able to do at the NHL level. The organization has been raving about him since they acquired him in the Scott Gomez deal so hopefully when he gets his chance, McDonagh will make it count and prove that he belongs in the NHL.
There is still a lot of hockey left to be played but it’s safe to say that the team’s defense has been a pleasant surprise in 2010-11.
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Patrick has a tremendous passion for hockey. Besides covering the Rangers and the NHL for Kukla's Korner, you can also find Patrick's work over at Sportsnet.ca, The Red Light District Hockey Blog, NHL Home Ice, and Liam Maguire's Ultimate Hockey web site.
Prior to writing for the above mentioned outlets, you could find Patrick's musings at hockey web sites/outlets such as TheHockeyNews.com, TheFourthPeriod.com, Spector's Hockey, Hokeja Vestnesis, Blueshirt Bulletin, SNYRangersBlog.com and many more.
For questions, comments and hip checks, feel free to e-mail Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.