GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Four goals allowed the last time they played the Ottawa Senators was a season high for the Rangers. So Wednesday night's rematch in the Canadian capital puts an emphasis on the Rangers' improved defensive results since that Oct. 29 shootout loss.

Beyond the obvious during the Rangers' four-game winning streak and their No. 3 league ranking in goals against (2.08) -- stellar work by goalies Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron -- is the play of their defensive pairs, even as they wait for All-Star Marc Staal to return from concussion-related headaches.

Dan Girardi, less noticeable when Staal was around, has turned into the league's leader in ice time and the Rangers' top shot-blocker, with 34.

"Danny doesn't say much," Rangers coach John Tortorella said Tuesday. "He's a real quiet kid. But how he plays, and all the situations he's put in, while he doesn't get talked about much around the league, I think he's one of the most underrated players in our game."

Girardi's partner, Ryan McDonagh, falls into Tortorella's category of the Rangers being rewarded for their patience. "Especially at that position," said Tortorella, "you don't want to give up on them too early. That's been very important to keep our young player to allow them to develop."

It must mean something that Girardi (plus-4), McDonagh (plus-6) and the second defensive pair of Michael Del Zotto (plus-6) and Michael Sauer (plus-4) have four of the five best plus-minus marks on the team (forward Marian Gaborik is plus-5).

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The 22-year-old McDonagh's suddenly major role, in his second NHL season, "has been a lot of responsibility," he said, "but I really like it. I like playing a lot of minutes and playing against the other team's top line, trying to shut them down."

Part of the requirement is to mimic Girardi's penchant for throwing his body in front of shots. "They don't feel good, that's for sure," McDonagh said, pointing to a colorful bruise just inside his right knee. "But I haven't broken any bones."

The human-shield art, Sauer said, is "just get in front of the shot. Get down on a knee, get in the lane and help the goalie out. You know you can't get out of the way because then you're screening, so you just stand your ground. If the puck hits you, great.

"We've got padding. It hurts, but even on the offensive side, the puck's flying around. Just part of the job."

Notes & quotes: The Rangers acquired minor-league forward Francois Bouchard from the Capitals for minor-league defenseman Tomas Kundratek. The 23-year-old Bouchard, chosen by Washington in the second round of the 2006 draft, has yet to make his NHL debut. Kundratek, 21, also is waiting to make it to the NHL after being taken by the Rangers in the third round of the 2008 draft. -- AP