Even two days later, the loss on Wednesday night still stings. Among the positives, that Chris pointed out yesterday, there was one thing that goes widely overlooked by the fans. If I asked you to guess, without looking, which defensive pair started each overtime period, you would likely guess Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. if that is your guess, then you are wrong.
Michael Sauer and Ryan McDonagh are the pair that started each overtime period, and each played about 32 minutes in the double overtime game. Of course, Staal and Girardi had more ice time at 37 and 40 minutes respectively, and that is to be expected. But the second item that goes widely unnoticed is that Sauer and McDonagh actually had more shifts than Staal and Girardi. Yes folks, Staal (42) and Girardi (44) both came in under the 47 shifts for Sauer and McDonagh. Didn’t expect to hear that, did you?
I’m over the loss, not because I have accepted that it was a loss, but because we saw two kids –two rookies– grow up before our eyes this postseason. Prior to February, the Rangers defense behind Staal and Girardi was shaky at best, and was evey shakier after shipping out Michal Rozsival for Wojtek Wolski. Now, the Rangers have possibly the best shutdown pair in the game in Staal and Girardi, and then possibly another top-ten shutdown pair in McDonagh and Sauer. Combine that with all-world goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, and the Rangers are a defensive force to be reckoned with.
They are still kids, and mistakes will be made (I’m almost positive McDonagh won’t make that pass again for the rest of his career). Mistakes are a part of the game, but the Rangers have two separate defensive pairs that appear to be capable of shutting down any top offensive line. Many teams would do anything just to have one pair like this, and the Rangers have two. Factor in that Girardi is the oldest at just 26 years old, and the Rangers appear to be set for a very, very long time. Perhaps the best thing about the emergence of Sauer and McDonagh is that Staal and Girardi can take a few more shifts off, which they so desperately need.