Yesterday the New York Rangers had to put Michael Sauer on the IR. And with that move, the Rangers' already injured defensive corps has taken another major hit. Sauer, who was averaging nearly 19 minutes a game, was a mainstay on the Rangers' blue line who helped take some pressure off Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh.
But now that his concussion has place him on the IR John Tortorella's hand is going to be forced in terms of a defensive strategy. The way I see it, there are really three different routes he can go .
All three of them are below the jump.
1. The "Continue To Rely On Dan Girardi And Ryan McDonagh" Strategy: Let me put it to you this way: Tortorella has had to use both consistently all year. In the five games leading up to the Sauer injury (so we're not including the Toronto game) Girardi averaged over 27 minutes of ice time a game. In that same time span McDonagh averaged 26 minutes. That's with Sauer in the lineup.
In the past four games McDonagh has played 27:37, 28:09, 22:07 and 20:40 a game. In those same games Girardi played 32:00, 29:57, 22:40 and 23:53. Notice the trend? Tortorella needed both defenseman to play big minutes in the two wins over Tampa Bay and Buffalo. Then he was able to give them a rest while the Rangers were obliterating Florida, before trying to rest them again against Dallas. But what happened when he rested them against the Stars? Jeff Woywitka and Anton Stralman saw big minutes and, more importantly, late minutes; which resulted in a Woywitka turnover that cost the Rangers the game.
Under this strategy, one would have to assume that the two are going to wear down. Especially since both play solid minutes on the power play and penalty kill. But we saw what can happen if they're not playing those big minutes against Dallas. Sure, the defense only gave up one goal, but Henrik Lundqvist bailed them out multiple times throughout the game.
2. The "Trust Woywitka And Stralman With More Minutes" Strategy: This is the countermeasure to the first strategy. If, in fact, Tortorella is seeing some wear and tear on his top two defenseman, or if he simply wants to avoid more injuries, then this is one of the ways he can rest Girardi and McDonagh.
Stralman did play nearly 17 minutes against the Stars, and overall had an effective game. But how much of his increased minutes in the past two games (he played 15 minutes against Florida) is a result of him earning it? Is it because Tortorella wants to rest Girardi and McDonagh, or is it because he's played good enough to earn it? The same question applies to Woywitka.
And let me just say, neither defenseman has been bad. Both have been serviceable and have filled the roles the Rangers have needed them to. But do you want to trust them with bigger minutes? That's the real question here.
3. The "It's Tim Erixon Time" Strategy: Erixon was called up on Wednesday and that was all the information needed for the speculation to begin. Will Erixon play? Is he here to replace an injured Steve Eminger? Is Jeff Woywitka going to sit because of his gaff against the Stars? Maybe this has to do with Sauer being out long term?
We'll know a lot more about what Tortorella is planning on doing with Erixon when the Rangers line up to take on the St. Louis Blues tonight, but I truly do expect him to play. Erixon can play the power play (which, along with Stralman being able to man the point as well, will give both McDonagh and Girardi time to rest) and he averaged 15 minutes in his first nine games in the NHL.
While he would be filed into the "how much can we trust him in big minutes?" category for the first few games, he's been fantastic down in the AHL and might be able to make the transition quickly. I'm more prone to this strategy because at least we get a look at where is game is on the NHL level and he's no more of a liability than Stralman and Erixon.