NEWARK - Dependable defensively? Check.

Durable? Check.

Finding the right shorts after practice? Well . . .

As a few writers waited after practice the other day to speak with Dan Girardi, the iron man of the Rangers defense, he hastily grabbed a pair of dark blue shorts from a hook on a locker and pulled them on. Suddenly, he looked up with a grin. "These aren't mine," he said.

Honest mistake. Give him a mulligan.

After all, haberdashery aside, Girardi, 31, has been an iron man for the Blueshirts, regularly finishing among the league leaders in blocked shots and playing through pain season after season.

If he plays all 82 games this season -- as he has five times -- Girardi will break Brian Leetch's franchise mark for playing entire seasons without a missed game since the league switched to an 82-game schedule in 1995-96. Incredibly, since being called up from the AHL midway through the 2006-07 season, Girardi has missed five games total -- four to injury.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

After having surgery on his constantly swollen left ankle to drain it on June 5, Girardi was itching to play a pre-season game, which he finally did Saturday night against the Devils.

"Good to go," said Girardi, who wanted to play before the fourth preseason game, but was kept out as a precaution. "You watch the games, you kind of want to be in there, get the feel of the game, get game situations going."

Girardi played 20:30 Saturday night, delivered five hits and Derek Stepan scored twice and added two assists as the Rangers edged the Devils 4-3 at Prudential Center.

Girardi was paired with Marc Staal -- who also had offseason ankle surgery and was playing his first exhibition game -- and it was old hat. That duo, along with the Girardi-Ryan McDonagh combination, has been a constant for years.

"It becomes second nature out there," Girardi said of playing with Staal or McDonagh. "You're not trying to figuring out who you're playing with. Me and Mac have been here for awhile now, before that, it was me and Stallsie. So it's kind of seamless."

This will be defenseman Kevin Klein's third season with the club, and Girardi said the overall familiarity helps.

Last year, two defensemen joined the top six, Dan Boyle in the offseason and Keith Yandle at the trade deadline, and Girardi thinks that the returning sextet "gives us a big advantage, especially when you see other teams losing guys in the offseason."

Coach Alain Vigneault said that in the case of Girardi, Staal and McDonagh, "anytime guys can be together" is favorable, but asked if he was comfortable with the top six, he joked "when they're playing well."

Then he added: "They prepare well for each other. I like the respect factor as far as our preparation."