Dan Boyle was in the lineup Saturday when the Rangers defeated the Arizona Coyotes 4-1 to win their fifth straight game, and he will be in the lineup again Tuesday when the Blueshirts host the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden. After that there are no guarantees for the 39 year-old defenseman who has spent part of the season already platooning with rookie Dylan McIlrath in the lineup.
"I understand, I've been a young guy..and I know you've got to let the young guys the opportunity to play and to prove themselves," Boyle told reporters following practice Monday at the MSG Training Center. "I just concentrate on the task at hand. I just try and be the best that I can be and try to regain some of that confidence I've struggled with at times this season."
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault has acknowledged several times already this season the difficult spot Boyle is in. One of the top offensive defensemen of his era, Boyle has strung together 14 consecutive seasons of 20 or more points, including six seasons of 50 or better. He is a veteran of 1,030 NHL games, is a two-time All Star, and a 2004 Stanley Cup champion.
There is no questioning Dan Boyle's resume; but now in this latter stage of Boyle's career it is Vigneault's job to get the most out of his veteran blue liner, while also "doing what's in the best interest of the team", finding ways to integrate the 23 year-old McIlrath, a former first round draft choice.
"We are looking at the big picture and seeing if there are some games we could possibly skip (with Boyle), and I had that conversation with Dan and I know (Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton) had the same conversation with his agent," explained Vigneault. "I didn't expect him to be happy about it or cheery about it, but at 39 we are trying to be smart with him. He's an important part of our team, and when we need him in the lineup we expect him to play well and play to his strengths."
Boyle was a healthy scratch twice this past week, with McIlrath playing consecutive games against the Capitals and Avalanche. Back in the lineup Saturday in Arizona Boyle assisted on a J.T. Miller goal, posted a +2 plus/minus rating and blocked two shots while logging nearly 18 minutes of ice-time.
Despite admittedly playing inconsistently so far this season, Boyle has managed three assists and a +5 rating in 11 appearances. A year ago, while limited to 65 games by injury and illness, Boyle totaled 20 points (9-11-20), scored three power play goals and was a +18.
"I think the struggle this year has been between the ears," offered a candid Boyle. "I have struggled a little bit with my confidence, and I think that's where a lot of the work needs to be done."
While Boyle had a good showing Saturday, and hopes for the same Tuesday against the Hurricanes, he knows that his margin for error is not as great as it used to be earlier in his career.
"I am literally taking it one day at a time," explained Boyle. "I could play one good game, but if I don't show up in the next one, it's not good."
The 6-foot-5 McIlrath impressed in the wins over Washington and Colorado last week, with Vigneault pointing out that Friday that the rookie's performance against the Avalanche was probably his best to date.
Yet it's worth it to Boyle to compete for playing time with McIlrath because at this stage of his career there is only goal at the end of the day for him.
"I don't care about personal statistics or anything like that, I just care about giving myself an opportunity hoist the (Stanley) Cup again," stated Boyle.