Fixing the DefenseNovember 20, 2009, by
The defense of our beloved Rangers seems to be taking the biggest hit lately. Yes, they score, but they don’t play defense particularly well, and they definitely don’t hit anyone. The latter issue is tougher to address, as the current personnel doesn’t really have the banger type. It’s just a hole this team has, that unfortunately cannot be addressed at the moment.
The bigger problem is all these defensive lapses we are seeing. Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, and Michal Rozsival have been the biggest contributors to these lapses, as each has been prone to overall bad play and the once-a-game epic turnover. This problem, however, I think can be fixed by simply realigning the defense a bit, and addressing specific roles and responsibilities of each pairing.
The basis for this comes from when I was playing PAL Floor Hockey here on Long Island, way back when I was just seven years old. In PAL, there are two defenseman, an up-defenseman and a back-defenseman. It’s fairly clear what each kid’s role was. The up-defenseman had more responsibility, as he had to help the offense, and get back on defense. The same premise, but obviously more complicated, can be applied here.
In particular, it’s important so pair a defenseman who is expected to add offense to his game, with a defenseman who is going to be a stay-at-home guy. We saw this work with Leetch-Beukeboom and Zubov-Lowe. As of right now, the Rangers are trying to get offense from all six defensemen, and it’s creating havoc amongst the blue liners. Both defensemen pinching, one not covering for another pincher, etc. We have seen all the problems, but it’s something that can be addressed.
The Rangers, in reality, only have one offensive defenseman (Michael Del Zotto) at the current moment. Everyone else either doesn’t have skill set, or just forgot how to play offense. So you take two more defensemen that you want to generate offense (for arguments sake, let’s say Staal and Matt Gilroy), and you have them focus on adding that element to the game. You pair each of them with one of the remaining defensemen, who should be focusing on shutting down the opposition’s rush. Of course, these roles aren’t clear cut, as you have to adjust to the situation of the game and the play, but these guys are professionals, so you have to assume they at least can figure that out.
At this point, you hope that one of the defensemen, hopefully Gilroy, develops a feel for the offensive game, without missing out on his defensive responsibilities. All of a sudden, you have a one-two punch in Del Zotto and Gilroy. Pair them with some strong defensive defensemen, like Staal and, believe it or not, Wade Redden. Now you have two solid defensive pairings. With Bobby Sanguinetti and Ryan McDonagh on their way, the Rangers will have effectively built from the net out. That’s how you win championships (unless you’re the Red Wings).