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Girardi takes role of Rangers' top defenseman

Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi skates during the second

Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi skates during the second period against the Boston Bruins. (Nov. 17, 2010) Photo Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

TAMPA, Fla. - The ongoing transformation of the Rangers from a team without much focus to one that's tough to play against has put the spotlight on Dan Girardi.

After some rocky patches last season, Girardi has been not just the Rangers' best defenseman through 22 games this season, he's among the top 15 defensemen in the league.

How else to judge a player who leads the NHL in blocked shots (68) and is among the top 15 defensemen (and tops among Rangers defensemen) in ice time, hits and points?

"I'm getting a lot of ice time in a lot of different situations," Girardi said after the Rangers held a brief practice at the St. Pete Times Forum here in preparation for tonight's game with the Lightning. "Some power-play time, killing penalties. It definitely helps to be out there no matter the situation."

John Tortorella's first full season as coach wasn't a consistent one for any of the Rangers' defensemen, and the coach has constantly put a lot on Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto, who have both had their ups and downs, even this year.

But Girardi, who was steady and unassuming his first two seasons, was asked to do more last year. It's taken some time, but he's done just what Tortorella has asked and become the leader of the defensive corps in much the same way Ryan Callahan leads the forwards: by example with physical play and fearlessness in stepping into shooting lanes.

Monday's 2-1 win over the Flames, the Rangers' fifth win in seven games and fifth time in seven allowing two goals or fewer, was a Girardi-type game: lots of hits, lots of bodies flying in front of shots. Girardi assisting on Brian Boyle's goal, then talliying the game-winner were bonuses.

"We're playing good team hockey right now, that's the key," Girardi said. "We do that, we're going to win a lot of hockey games."

Perhaps the only surprise is Girardi's point total. His 13 points are not completely out of character - he had 10 goals and 28 points in 2007-08, his first full NHL season, when Tom Renney had Girardi getting a regular power-play turn - but his power-play time this season comes from the same place his team-high 24:34 a game comes from - hard work, dirty work, gets rewarded these days.

Notes & quotes: D Michal Rozsival (shoulder) skated with a non- contact jersey Tuesday. He'll miss an eighth straight game Wednesday.

New York Sports