When the New York Rangers learned that they would be without Marc Staal for up to a month, John Tortorella knew he would need one of his veteran defenceman to fill Staal's shoes. So Tortorella turned to Dan Girardi, one of the more under-appreciated defenseman in the NHL.
In the Rangers first two games of the regular season, Girardi's play has been nothing short of exemplary.
He's averaged nearly 31 minutes a night, which is significantly higher than the next defenseman on the team, which is Ryan McDonagh who is averaging nearly 27 minutes a night. In those two games Girardi has blocked five shots and recorded three hits.
As if that wasn't enough, Girardi was the main player in terms of special teams. He averaged nearly five minutes a night in both games on the penalty kill, and almost two minutes a night on the power play. It's Girardi's play that has kept Tim Erixon (12:46 a night) and Steve Eminger (14:!5) from needing to be leaned on too heavily.
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Girardi, who some wanted to see packaged in a trade last year, has become a vital part of this team, if he wasn't already.
John Tortorella is already using Michael Del Zotto and Mike Sauer for roughly 20 minutes a night, and while McDonagh has played brilliantly, I'm sure the preseason plan wasn't to have him playing nearly 27 minutes a night. And while Del Zotto and Sauer have played well in their extended roles, Girardi has played almost every critical minute on defense.
Once Staal comes back, stability will resurface with the Rangers' defensive corps. McDonagh will stabilize the second pairing, since Staal will take his place on the top line, and that will push Sauer or Del Zotto down to the third line depending on what the team does with Erixon.
For now, however, the Rangers need to be happy that Girardi is on their side. And his play really makes you wonder just how good New York's defense will be once Staal comes back.