'Hart Off The Ice'
By Sean Hartnett
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Strong depth is a key aspect for any winning hockey club. The Rangers seem to have an overabundance of ready-made contributors coming up from their minor league affiliate, the Connecticut Whale who able to handle the pressures of playing in the NHL.
An 82-game schedule is a long grind and every team around the league will deal with their share of significant injuries at some point during the season. Keeping a winning pace throughout the year is often a matter of how well a team can respond and compensate when they lose a star man or when their roster is hit by multiple injuries.
All season long, the Rangers have had to make due without assistant captain and key defenseman Marc Staal who is recovering from post-concussion syndrome. Staal has been making progress and is participating in non-contact skating. It will be a big boost when he returns to the Rangers' lineup but so far, they've done well filling this considerable hole.
Michael Del Zotto spoke about the ability for the Rangers' call-ups to take their share of responsibility in Staal's absence.
"From day one when Staal went out, it's an opportunity for other guys to step up and show what they have. Bickel and Timmy (Erixon) have done a great job for us the past couple games," Del Zotto said.
Staal isn't the only blue-liner missing due to injury. Michael Sauer is also battling a concussion and was placed on the injury reserve ten days ago. Steve Eminger will be miss another 8 or 9 weeks after separating his right shoulder. In addition, left-winger Wojtek Wolski hasn't played since November 3rd since suffering a sports hernia.
Despite all this, the Rangers have continued to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference and leaped over their rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers for first place in the Atlantic Division last night.
"Guys have stepped right in, filled that role and haven't missed a beat. I think it says a lot for the guys in Hartford coming up. You have to have that to be successful throughout the year. There's going to be injuries and guys going down. Top teams in this league have guys coming in and contributing," captain Ryan Callahan explained.
Carl Hagelin has shown tremendous upside and two-way ability. Many Blueshirts fans believe that he and Tim Exiron are on their way toward stardom. Fellow Connecticut call-ups John Mitchell, Stu Bickel and Anton Stralman have given the Rangers stability when they've been inserted into the lineup.
Bickel has caught fire immediately. In his first three career NHL games, he's racked up four assists. Del Zotto mentioned that inside the locker room, Bickel's teammates have playfully joked about what his statistics would end up like if he continues at his present rate.
"We've been joking around. Girardi made a comment that (Bickel) is on pace for 52 points and we're kinda joking around that way. Ever since Marc (Staal) has been out, guys have stepped up. There's been opportunities for guys to come in and fill the roles. He's done a great job, Tim's (Erixon) done a great job. Our d-core as whole has done a great job of filling the positions left out," Del Zotto revealed.
Callahan put an emphasis on Bickel's ability to contribute in all areas on the ice and the overall load carried by players coming up from Connecticut.
"He's brought a bit of toughness to the lineup and plays a physical game. He's putting points up too, so you can't ask for much for out of a guy with his first call-up. It's big. Guys like Mitchell, Hagelin, Stralman coming in… they haven't missed a beat," Callahan stated.
Bickel himself wasn't getting carried away with his own success and remains focused on playing the kind of consistent hockey that head coach John Tortorella appreciates.
"It's going well. I'm not changing my game one bit. It's obviously nice to get the points but at the same time, my primary focus is still on defense and being difficult to play against. That's continued to be what I bring to the table every night," Bickel confidently stated.
Rangers fans – how pleased are you with the Blueshirts' depth and ability to compensate for injuries? Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.
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