GREENBURGH, N.Y. — With a cranky knee, defenseman Dan Girardi hobbled through perhaps the weakest season of his iron-man career as a Ranger.
Troubled by turnovers and unable to get to the puck quickly, the defenseman who turned 32 in April became the target of boo-birds at Madison Square Garden, in the press and on social media.
Many saw it as a sign that the wear-and-tear of having annually played 80 or more regular-season games and blocking shots aplenty in seven of the last eight seasons was taking its toll.
On Friday, asked about how much motivation he had after a long summer rest and rehabilitation, Girardi said “Tons . . . I want to come out here and prove I can play. I know I’ve got a lot of doubters out there, but I don’t worry about what’s being said around here or anywhere else. I have no doubt at all.”
So does he have a chip on his shoulder?
“I don’t think I need to have one,” he said. “I think I know myself. I can play well. I’m not really worried about what you guys have to say — no offense. I know I can play well and be a factor, I’m going to try my best and work my hardest and whatever happens, happens.’’
Health-wise, Girardi said he feels the best he has “in the last three or four summers. It’s not the best thing to lose in the first round, but at same time, it gave everyone a chance to heal and rest and get mentally right for the next season here . . . It was a freak thing that happened last year, a little wrist shot hits my knee cap, and that’s kinda bugging me all year. I was able to have a lot of time to work out [in the summer]. I feel great, and feeling good about myself and the team.”
At the end of the season, Girardi had said if he could revisit the year, during which he played 74 games, he might have taken more time off to rest the knee. On Friday, he addressed that possibility again.
“We’ll cross that bridge when I get there,” he said. “I can’t say if this hurts, am I gonna do this? I’ll take it day by day.’’
“All the indications I’ve seen so far, not just on the ice, in the gym, the way he’s conducting himself, a real positive attitude, he’s given me every indication that the player who was so good for this organization for a long time, the warrior who put his body on the line for his team, I think that’s the Dan Girardi we’re going to see,” said head coach Alain Vigneault.
Rebounds from Girardi and fellow defenseman Marc Staal, will be “huge” for the overall team defense, Vigneault said. “We need those players on the top of their game.”