Over the years, Dan Girardi has become a mainstay on the right-side of the New York Rangers defense, but his start to this campaign hasn’t been impressive. There is a certain amount of concern regarding his play, as his gritty style makes us wonder if the years of punishing minutes are beginning to take their toll on the rear-guard.
The good news for the Rangers is that they have a wealth of talented defenders to lessen the burden on Girardi, so they can pursue the idea of giving him less minutes on a nightly basis, or even giving him a game or two off until he finds his rhythm. He’s slowly but surely returning to form, but the Rangers will need him in top shape if they are going to push against the best teams in the league.
In the past few games, Kevin Klein has been stepping up as the Rangers’ top right-handed defender. Last season, Girardi was second on the team in ice-time, averaging 22:41 per game, while Klein was logging 18:29. Through 10 games this year, Klein is up to 20:38 per game, while Girardi has dropped down to 20:31.
Now I’m not a huge “Fancy Stats” guy, but I do think that they have a certain place in today’s world, when discussing a player’s performance. So far when Girardi has been on the ice, the Rangers have recorded 125 shots on goal, but have also allowed 179 shots on their own net. This makes Girardi a whopping -54 through just 10 games. On the flip side, Klein is a plus 24. The swing is dramatic, but what these numbers illustrate to me, is that Girardi is struggling to get the puck up the ice. When I watch him this season, I notice that he hasn’t been confident, and because of that, he seems to get caught running around his own end.
The good news is that Girardi just had his best game of the season against the Calgary Flames, where he recorded a goal, had four blocked shots, had three hits, and played 19:54. Rangers’ Head Coach Alain Vigneault spoke after the game about the veteran defenders play, “He’s coming along, no doubt that tonight was one of his better games, at both ends of the rink.” He just seemed to have a different look on Sunday, he wasn’t chasing the puck, and he was doing a good job in the corners. He is at his best when he is playing a responsible game, while also finding a way to jump into space to open up some room on offense. That awareness is exactly how he found his goal on Sunday, and you have to think that this game could be a building block for him.
Girardi is one of my favorite defenders, he never gives up, he plays through tremendous punishment, and he’s beloved by his teammates. I’m not surprised that he’s having some struggles, because he does play that hard. it’s possible that the years of being pounded with hits, and pucks are starting to take their toll. That being said I’m not worried about him. What Girardi has going for him is that his game isn’t based on speed, it’s based on a heavy style. When Martin St. Louis lost a step in last years playoffs, he was like he was a completely different player, because his main asset was being directly effected by wear-and-tear. The adjustments that he needs to make are more cerebral, at this point he’s just making some bad choices, but once he gets that back he’ll be fine. This isn’t to say that he will never see his game decline because of age, it just means that his game shouldn’t fall off a cliff like other players do, because flat-out speed isn’t as important to his game.
I think the Rangers are handling this well, they should take away some ice-time until he looks like he has his rhythm back and then they can go back to riding him in big spots, he has been through enough in his carer to be able to rebound from a rough start. In his career Girardi has 200 career points and 769 games with the club, so he deserves the benefit of the doubt.