Feeling down? In need of a distraction after Team USA's loss? Let's turn our attention back to the NHL, and take a look at how three of the New York Rangers' top-six defenseman–Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, and Anton Stralman–have performed so far.
Already one of the best defenders in the league, there was the feeling heading into this season that McDonagh still had more to give…on the offensive end at least. In Alain Vigneault's attacking system, the US Olympian has delivered on that promise, already setting a new career high in goals with 8, and just two points back of his career-best 32, with 23 games still to play. If there remained any lingering doubt as to who the Rangers' best defenseman was before the season, McDonagh has ended it–which in no way is a slight to Dan Girardi. McDonagh's physical talent–his tremendous speed to go along with his solid 6'1" frame–simply sets him apart from most defenseman. There's no opposing forward the former Montreal 1st-round pick isn't able to matchup with physically, and as his offensive game continues to grow, a Norris Trophy or two isn't out of the question. A
Early on in the season, Dan Girardi struggled a bit to make the adjustment from John Tortorella's zone defensive scheme to Vigneault's straight man-to-man system. At times, the 29-year old was caught puck watching, and seemed to struggle to identify his man in the new scheme. But, when the team at long last began to grasp the new system and turn things around in late December, front and center was Girardi, who raised his game significantly. Since then, the pending free agent has played the same rock solid, courageous defense that endeared him to Rangers' fans over the prior seven seasons. Girardi is still prone to the occasional glaring mistake every now and then–a turnover at the blue line here, an ill-advised breakout pass up the middle there–but more than makes up for it by doubling as the Blueshirts' third goaltender with his team-high 116 blocked shots. His expiring contract has led to some rumors that he could be moved if he doesn't ink an extension before the March 5th trade deadline, but that seems unlikely, so long as Girardi's requests remain more reasonable than Ryan Callahan's. B+
Stralman has been solid, if not necessarily spectacular. But than again, 4th defenseman are rarely if ever asked to be spectacular. The Steady Swede has been just that, helping the Rangers weather the decline and eventual trade of Michael Del Zotto. The 19:41 he plays per game is the most he's averaged in three seasons with the Blueshirts, and with good reason. Stralman has raised his game to a level fitting of a low-risk top-4 defenseman–he moves the puck, is rarely out of position, and has improved his physical play. It would be nice if he chipped in a little more offensively every now and then–he has just 7 points–but Stralman has done enough so far to fend off a significant threat to his playing time–the acquisition of fellow right defenseman Kevin Klein. The Swede, like so many other Rangers, is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. He'll be due a raise over the $1.7 million he's currently making, but won't exactly drum up a bidding war for the ages on the open market. The Blueshirts would be wise to hang on to him as a cost-efficient 4th D. B+
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