This Rangers club is different from other Rangers clubs of the past. Sure, the Rangers have generally been in the top-five in hits, especially in the Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky years, but there has always been something missing. There was always a level of ferocity that the Rangers simply would not go to previously. This year is different. The feel of the team is different, and it’s because of three players that were mostly afterthoughts over the summer: Michael Sauer, Steve Eminger, and Derek Boogaard.
Starting with Boogaard, the Rangers have themselves an enforcer, and a great locker room guy. Although he will always get attention for that contract, what the Boogyman lacks in ability, he more than makes up for in size and strength. When he is on the ice, no one messes with any of the Rangers. He does more with his five minutes of playing time than Donald Brashear did with his seven minutes of playing time. Boogaard came into came in shape, having lost 25 pounds prior, and it has shown on the ice. He’s not the swiftest of skaters, he doesn’t have the softest hands, but he does protect his teammates. Oh, and he apparently has a wicked slap shot.
Steve Eminger, who was acquired from Anaheim for Aaron Voros and Ryan Hillier, has probably been the biggest surprise of the season. Written off by many, including myself, after his preseason performance, Eminger spent the first ten games alternating as a healthy scratch with Michael Sauer and Matt Gilroy. In those games, Eminger was very inconsistent, and sometimes a liability on the blue line. However, he slowly earned more playing time with increased physical play, and generally good defensive play. He has proved many naysayers wrong, and his physical presence is something that is very understated for this Rangers team.
Rookie Michael Sauer came into training camp as a question mark, but played his way on to the team. He’s tough, he’s physical, and as we learned yesterday, will drop the gloves when challenged. Wednesday’s game against the Flames was the most physical game the Rangers have played all year, and Sauer answered the call. Although that boarding call was well deserved, he managed to draw a roughing penalty to negate the powerplay, and later dropped the gloves twice. He makes opponents think twice before planting themselves in front of the net. He and Eminger together have been great surprises on the Rangers defense, which again has been very good in the absence of Michal Roszival.
The game against Calgary is going to be the typical game the Rangers will play against most Western Conference teams, very physical with a lot of anger boiling over. These three low key additions have been instrumental in making the Rangers a physical force, and a team that will make you pay for hitting their star, or running their goaltender. This is something we haven’t been able to say about the Rangers in a long time.