Last night, Roman Hamrlik made his Rangers debut just hours after being claimed off waivers. Harmlik did not register a point, he was not on the ice for any goals, and he only recorded one shot on goal and one hit. But, Hamrlik instantly made the Rangers better. Yes, Marc Staal is out, and Hamrlik pretty much represented the only option. But regardless of Staal’s presence in the lineup, Hamrlik balances out this team.
For weeks now, we’ve seen Torts juggle between Stu Bickel, Steve Eminger, and Matt Gilroy on the bottom defense pairing. Very rarely did any of them see more than ten minutes per game. Last night, Hamrlik played 15 minutes (as did Eminger). With Hamrlik, the Rangers finally have a bottom defense pairing that the coach can rely on. Those extra five minutes means five minutes of extra rest for Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Del Zotto, and Anton Stralman.
It’s also worth noting that this combination received 15 minutes of ice time without Marc Staal. When Staal returns, it could be likely that Hamrlik stays in the lineup as a third pairing defenseman, and still gets 15 minutes (about 18 shifts). All of a sudden, the bottom pairing of Del Zotto-Hamrlik is a trustworthy pairing. Prior to that, it was a bottom pairing that consisted of Gilroy, Bickel, or Eminger. Only Eminger has proved he can be consistent in Torts’ system, but for some reason he doesn’t get the ice time to prove it year after year.
For comparison’s sake: We are used to Girardi and McDonagh getting upwards of 25-27 minutes per game. Last night, in a close game, they played 23 minutes each.
Another positive factor: Torts has never trusted a new guy so quickly. Usually new guys go through a bit of a “hazing” process where they sit on the bench or in the press box until they prove they belong. Stralman went through this last year, and now he’s playing top-four minutes. Hamrlik isn’t Stralman –he’s only about 10 years older– but the fact that Torts trusted him right away speaks volumes.
For the Rangers to succeed in the playoffs, they need to be able to rest their top guys and rely on their bottom defense pairing for significant minutes. The acquisition of Hamrlik appears to have at least given Torts something to think about and someone to rely on. In a condensed schedule (and the playoffs), rest goes a long way.