FANFARE: TESTING THE DEFENSIVE DEPTH

New York RangersBY: Adam Gavriel

Quantity over quality may prove a necessary motto for the New York Rangers over the coming weeks as  injuries to Marc Staal, Michael Sauer, and Steve Eminger and with Jeff Woywitka a game-time decision, the Rangers could potentially lose four of their Top seven defenders.

In 2010 – 2011, it was the forwards who it seemed just could not seem to stay on the ice. In 2011-2012, it’s the blueline taking the biggest hit. What may be the most shockingly is that besides Woywitka, who appears to be day-to-day, the  closest Rangers defenseman that could return to the lineup may in fact be Marc Staal. Unless you don’t follow the team too closely, which begs the question, “Why are you reading this?” But I digress, Staal has been battling post-concussion symptoms ever since a blow he sustained in Carolina on Feb. 22 of last season from his brother Eric. Staal, who hasn’t appeared in a game for the Rangers since Game Five of the last season’s playoffs, could, according to the New York beat writers, be cleared for contact in the next seven to ten days.Among the walking wounded is Steve Eminger who has a separated shoulder and is out eight to ten weeks according to the Rangers. Michael Sauer is the most nerve-wracking of them all out with a concussion from a Dion Phaneuf delivered hit. Sauer’s brother Kurt, a defenseman for the Phoenix Coyotes, has been out since essentially the 2008-2009 season (one game in 09-10) with post-concussion problems. Woywitka has his bumps and bruises from playing that brand of Tortorella hockey where getting into the shooting lane occasionally lands players into the medical trainer’s room with a bum foot. Woywitka will be  a game-time decision.

All of these injuries make the Rangers surely thankful that they’ve been picking up defenseman left and right for the better part of the last couple of years, and will be able to plug some guys into the lineup when they need them.

Anton Stralman has been strong for the Rangers over the last six games, logging fifteen-plus minutes in each of the past four games. Stralman was signed as a free-agent after being unable to crack the New Jersey Devils roster this off-season. Stu Bickel was been an ECHL/AHL journeyman who will finally get a shot in an NHL game at age 25. Bickel was acquired in a trade over a year ago for the openly-disgruntled, Nigel Williams. Bickel will come in for Eminger as a tough bodied right handed shot to try and fill the void.

If it turns out that Woywitka can’t go, the final half of the Rangers defenseman will be filled by a rookie, Tim Erixon. Appearing in the team’s first nine games before being sent down to the Whale to get some more seasoning, Erixon is looking to climb back into the Rangers lineup full time.

But beware of quantity over quality; that’s something NHL general manager’s might say when trying to swing a trade in their favor. Though with the plethora of Rangers injuries, stacking all these defenseman, with more to spare with the CT Whale, Sather and his management team have been able to keep the Rangers backend afloat as they try and deal with all these injuries.

John Tortorella, and more specifically Mike Sullivan, who runs the defense, need to be commended for their work with the makeshift back six the Rangers have used all season. Getting the best out of waiver wire pickups, unsigned free agents, and rookies, the coaching staff has led the team to being the second best in the NHL in terms of goals against trailing only the Boston Bruins.

The defense tomorrow night when the Rangers take the ice against the cross-Hudson rival Devils will look nothing like anyone imagined when the season started overseas in Europe. Though as the Rangers have proved with their quantity mentality, it is always good to be prepared in times of certain crisis.

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