What changed for the Rangers defense this year?

April 1, 2016, by


Over the course of the season, we, along with many other folks, have beaten to death that the Rangers defense is not what it used to be. While we’ve addressed some of the root causes, we have not addressed what specifically changed from last year. The personnel is the same. The system is the same. So it’s fair to expect similar results.

As with anything in sports analysis, it is very rarely one thing. A culmination of factors can conspire to change something that once appeared static and reliable.

First, let’s take a look at age. The average age on the blue line is 29.7 years old. That is not a young group. Dan Boyle’s spritely 39 years obviously skews things a bit, but Ryan McDonagh and Dylan McIlrath are the only members of the defense significantly under 30 (Yandle is 29). Especially for the less mobile defenseman, there are a lot of miles on those bodies.

When age-related decline sets in, usually the first things to go are the legs. When you look at the composition of this group, your high-end skaters are really McDonagh and Yandle. Boyle’s best skating days are clearly behind him and for the rest of the defense, skating was never their strength to begin with.

Many defenseman have extended their careers after their skating falters through good positioning, reads and gap control. It certainly can be done. The issue is ultimately one of systems.

AV continues to insist upon skating-intensive hybrid systems that routinely expose the weaker skating blue liners. Girardi, especially is exposed not only because he doesn’t have the wheels to cover the overload/man coverage scheme, but because he has to execute that system against the other team’s top players. He is routinely put into a position to fail. If Girardi and Staal were allowed to play a more zone-oriented system, they would likely have more success through positioning and other factors that aren’t as reliant on high-end skating.

This brings us to the concept of deployment. It is clear at this point that the Rangers’ top three defenseman are Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Klein and Keith Yandle. Staal, Girardi and Boyle are useful in certain roles, but they are still being deployed outside of those roles regularly, with expectedly disastrous results.  If this team is going to be successful in the playoffs, AV is going to need to hedge against personnel weaknesses and put players in a position to succeed.

Yes, it’s true the personnel are the same. But that doesn’t mean same results. There are many factors that go into a solid blue line, and it’s a slippery slope once one starts to slide. It’s not that the blue line or the systems changed, it’s that the players cannot execute the way they used to. That’s a major change, whether it shows on paper or not.

"What changed for the Rangers defense this year?", 5 out of 5 based on 9 ratings.


  1. amy says:

    if anything the defense is getting older av’s plan is to rest them after they clinch better sooner than later

  2. Dave says:

    I think the league getting faster has to do with it too.

  3. Rangers Fan in Boston says:

    Let’s be honest. It’s not like the D corp was stellar last year (again, DB and MS come to mind). It hasn’t been that big of a falloff, people are just talking about it now.

    • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

      Just like to add that those who were paying attention knew the defense would be a liability this year.

    • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

      *Meant to be DG above, but you can throw DB in the mix also.

      • Dave says:

        Girardi’s decline was known, but no one expected it to be this bad this year. We expected third pair-like play. We aren’t getting that.

    • Dave says:

      Boyle was losing steam, but he was still able to carry Staal. This year is different.

    • Walt says:

      some of us were beating the warning drums last season as well…………

      I honestly believe that this is the net affect of the Tort’s style played by both Staal, and Girardi over the years!!!!!!!

    • Jon says:

      The Rangers didn’t allow a goal in the final 5:00 minutes of the 3rd period to either tie a game or relinquish the lead 15 times last season. That leads the NHL by the way.
      The Rangers did fall off a bit last season from the year before but they could close out a 2-1 game. Now they are the worst in the NHL at protecting late leads. IMO it’s partially the cacoon the Rangers fall into and partially the defense.

  4. Fotiu is God says:

    Really insightful analysis, Justin.

    Put another way: while we have the blueprint (system) built for a Tesla in reality we’re running the two-stroke motor from an East German Trabant.

    • Bobby B says:

      Fotiu, you have a way with words. Excellent post.

    • Dave says:

      You have a way with words.

    • Walt says:

      great paisan, love your analogies !!!!!!!!!!

    • Rangers Rock says:

      I don’t think people know what the Trabant is. I drove one in Europe. Its a Tanner Glass of a car, it does not turn fast.

      • Bobby B says:

        But it is reliable, gets you to places other cars can not, and like Tanner Glass, the car has no fear of anything.

        • Fotiu is God says:

          Well played, Bobby. (Got a gut laugh from the turning analogy.)

          Inasmuch being solidly in Tanner Glass’s camp–a real life army of one–I see our designated hitter boasting slightly more than the Trabant’s 18-horsepower.

          Moreover, though he does tend to run his yap–admirably–Glass does’t belch nearly as much noxious fumes.

    • pony says:

      Who here has ridden in a Trabant?

  5. Leetchie Nut says:

    Fatigue from 2 deep runs and 3 core D injured. Done.

  6. Egelstein says:

    I concur entirely. AV’s failure to recognize this issue and adjust is either ego or simply not being a smart coach. You have to kinda rule out the latter, I’d say, because all NHL coaches are smart in their own right of course. An additional wrinkle to add to the age factor is how beat up the D corps were as a collective unit at the end of that TB series last year. I don’t recall the exact figure, but the Rangers have played an insane amount of playoff games the past five years or so. In “hockey years”, guys who have been here that whole window…it’s simply gotta be adding up, like a whole extra season tucked in there. Look at the Kings for example…they’ve basically needed to take a year off after both their Cup runs. Two years in a row going deep into the playoffs for us…these guys are just worn out, and their coach is doing them zero favors. Sigh.

    • Bobby B says:

      Egelstein, you may be on to something with your comment. I am a daily listener to NHL radio network, on Sirius Radio. . The shows host Boomer Gordon has made the same statement throughout the year. He is convinced Rangers are burnt out from all the playoff hockey. He does feel they have one more run in them for this year, with this current group.

  7. Rangers Rock says:

    The car is made of paper and GLASS and can not PASS inspection in the US. The car rocks back and forth in the wind and is SLOW and it waists a lot of gas. No its not the Defense but and offensive checker.

  8. Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

    Let’s not rule out the fact that you had three defensemen all coming off off-season procedures. That combined with a core group that’s played more hockey over the past two plus years then anyone else, and yeah, it’s going to take its toll to some degree.

    I’m not convinced though that the decline is linear, meaning a normal off-season doesn’t get them back to where they were last year.

    Also, looking at the ages of the defensemen of the other major contenders (just for time sake, Caps, Pens, Bolts), we are averaging 31, the others in the 28-29 range. But take Boyle, at age 39, out of the mix, and we are at 29. So we really aren’t that old relatively speaking.

    • Walt says:


      Not to start an argument, but how long are we going to fall back on the year end procedures?

      Good grief Charlie Brown, it’s almost a year already, any bone injury usually takes from six, to eight weeks to heal !!!!! We’re making lame excuses for these three guys, Boyle, Staal, and Girardi !!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

        It’s fair Walt, but the point is, it’s unknown to what extent it affected their ability to properly prepare for the season. We won’t know until the final postmortem on the season.

  9. Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

    Btw, I was unfortunately too busy to respond to Pat’s post about playing Lindberg, and the whole Glass debate. I vehemently disagree with the whole premise of this article. Defending the indefensible? Seriously? If Glass was SO bad, and the 4th line so ineffective because of it, then how come teams haven’t been able to exploit this weakness to any great extent? How is it even possible then that the Rangers had the best record in hockey last season, and was 20 minutes from another trip to the SC Finals? Pat, and others who are in the anti-Glass camp, aren’t you overstating all this just a bit?

    As for this year, certainly recently, the 4th line has been extremely effective since Stalberg was put there. It is not a weakness right now. So why mess with that?

    As for Lindberg, to say he’s in AV’s doghouse is once again an inaccurate overstatement. He’s simply a rookie who’s a victim of a numbers game. That’s far different than being in the doghouse. But if you want to look at why he’s sitting, just look at the amount of minor penalties he takes. He averages 35 seconds of penalty box time per game, and relative to the amount of time he plays, that’s among the highest on the team. That combined with the fact that he’s 2-8-10 in 39 games since 12/6 and Glass, playing less minutes and only playing on the 4th line, is 4-3-7 since that same date (yes, Glass has MORE goals than Lindberg), shows that this decision is hardly a slam dunk either way.

    • Fotiu is God says:

      Low-fives all around, Eddie. Well said.

      I’m thinking this secret society of Glass advocates–all three of us–should have a unique handshake like The Moose Lodge. Or some kind of strangely evocative-mesmerizing iconography to it, a la The Masons’ eye-amidst-the-pyramid.

      • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

        Given how Glass gets so much hate, we may have to go into the witness protection program in order to support him! 🙂

  10. Matt Aronowitz says:

    Best picture ever?

  11. Jon says:

    I cannot see how Girardi and Staal could have declined that much that quickly. They (Staal & Girardi) played like themselves during last seasons playoffs, although Girardi was victimized on several occasions. I wonder if that is partially the answer as to why those 2 have regressed to the extent they have. They may be playing injured this season. Maybe their injuries never totally healed last summer. That would make a player hesitant to block a shot they would otherwise stand right in front of.

  12. Jon says:

    as far as the Rangers defensive zone coverage goes, I think using more zone coverage would only create the need to block more shots and disrupt the Rangers style of hockey.
    I think they should actually be more aggressive, especially when the puck comes up high. By being aggressive with the oppositions defenseman could limit shot attempts against, create more turnovers and subsequent odd man rushes.
    Once you get a couple of those in a game you’ll see the Defenseman backing out of the zone to prevent scoring chances and maybe create some nervous defenseman.
    The Rangers allow too many shot attempts as it is now. Falling into zone coverage would only compound that problem. I say be more aggressive and the Rangers could tip the scales in their favor.
    I predict the Rangers do this in the playoffs. I have a feeling AV isn’t showing his hand just yet to make it more difficult for teams to gameplan against the Rangers.
    I would also like to point out the Pens took over 2nd place again. The Rangers home/road splits are massive. That makes it imperative they lock down 2nd place and home ice against the Rangers.

  13. Tommy says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of the Ranger defense and the scheme they play and have for a while… Maybe against the faster skating teams such as Pittsburgh, changing the defensive scheme might avoid 1 or 2 giveaways that seem to occur in the 3rd Period way to often this year

  14. Bill Ash says:

    With a supportive home fan base the Rangers may go all the way. Fickle fans , with all the boos, do not deserve a championship team. Plenty of suggestions out there by people who never played the game. Go Rangers!