Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Importance of Depth

The New York Rangers have managed to go 18-8-4 for their first 30 games, which is good for 40 points and tied for third best in the Eastern Conference.

Their 2.23 goals against per game is third best in the NHL and their +20 goal differential is fourth best in the league.

Considering the combination of Henrik Lundqvist and Marty Biron in net and defensemen Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Michael Sauer, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Del Zotto, and Steve Eminger on their roster, those stats really shouldn't be surprising. That is arguable the best goalie duo and one of the better defensive corps in the league.

BUT Staal has not played a game all season, Sauer missed time early in the year because of shoulder injury and is now on the IR with a concussion, and as a result a Jeff Woywitka, a waiver claim, has had to play in 24 games.  In other words they've been without their star defenseman, part of the second pairing defense, and have been running out a 7th defenseman routinely and still have one of the best ranked defenses in the league.

For this Rangers fans can thank Glen Sather.  I have always been a huge believer that Sather does not get nearly enough credit and this season has been no exception.  I never thought much of that waiver claim on Woywitka, but he has been solid all year filling in, he then brought in Anton Stralman who has looked better by the game, and before the season brought in Tim Erixon who showed a lot of potential in those nine games (more on him later).

Those mostly minor moves to bolster the defense have given the Rangers enough depth to overcome some serious loses to the blueline. And despite the Rangers needing to consistently change pairings and use the 9th and 10th defensive options on their roster, only Erixon (-2) and Brandon Bell (-1), who played in just one game, are the only two defensemen in the minus category.

Too add insult to injury, Eminger left last game with an injury and it turns out he has a dislocated shoulder and will be out "a while". Rookie Tim Erixon will be called back up from Hartford to fill in for Eminger, who has been the most improved player this year.  Just another tough loss for the team's defense.

Most teams aren't able to overcome the sheer quantity of injuries the Rangers have had to their defense, let alone the quality of players that have been taken out.  While the big thing in sports lately has been to allocate all of your funds into a few star players and fill out the roster with scrubs, this goes to show how important having quality depth is.  I don't know if the Rangers will be able to continue to play at such a high level with while dealing with the injury bug, but it is nice to enjoy it while it lasts.


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