It is becoming increasingly obvious that the New York Rangers have issues they need to address. After last night's 4-1 defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Blues, the Rangers have lost four of their last six games, including the last two games.
In the past two losses specifically, the Rangers' defense has been an issue. Last night John Tortorella was switching lines routinely, that included the defensive pairings, something Tortorella has been able to avoid for the most part. Anton Stralman played over 20 minutes (deservedly so), while both Jeff Woywitka and Steve Eminger played less than 15 minutes each.
To put it into perspective: Against the Blues the Rangers had two defenseman -- Woywitka played 11:19 and Eminger played 13:38 -- who played less than 15 minutes. The blues didn't have a single defenseman play less than 19 minutes. Not one. Same goes for the loss to the Dallas Stars. The Stars also didn't have a single defenseman play less than 19 minutes a night. The Rangers had two (Woywita and Eminger again) play less than 15 minutes.
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Before anyone starts blaming Tortorella, ask yourself this: What else can he do? These injuries have forced his hand, it's given him no choice than to use Eminger (who was signed to be the 7th defenseman in case of injuries) and Woywitka (who the Stars tried to send to the AHL) as the bottom pair defenseman. Even Stralman has had to fill in for significant minutes.
That's not Tortorella's fault.
I don't even know if Tim Erixon is going to be the answer, although he should be getting 15 minutes a night rather than Woywitka's constant 11. I don't see any reason why the Rangers can't swap Erixon and Woywitka right now and slowly build up Erixon's confidence. It's nothing against Woywitka either, he's been solid, but if Tortorella isn't going to trust him with more than 11 minutes a night then he may as well take a seat.
And before you go demanding a trade, remember that the Rangers' situation is out in the open. There isn't one general manager Glen Sather could negotiate with who doesn't know how little leverage the Rangers have at the negotiation table. If Sather opens up talks with another team for a quality veteran defenseman they're going to want him to overpay.
And, remember that the expectation is that Marc Staal and Michael Sauer will return this season. So what do you do with all the defenseman on the roster now, and the glut of quality prospects who are waiting in the wings to make a run at a roster spot next year?
Simply put, there is no real answer right now. The easiest -- and best long-term option in my opinion -- is to slid Erixon into Woywitka's slot. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen.
The Rangers might just need to fight through this spell until Sauer gets back. Or maybe the defense will come together as the team tries to get past this rough patch. Either way, something needs to change.