Figuring out Alain Vigneault’s thought process on the defense

November 21, 2016, by

alain vigneault

Boy, the Rangers play two mediocre games and all of a sudden the world is ending. The focus, as always, has been on the defense. But let’s be clear here. We all knew the defense was in need of an upgrade before the season started.¬†The major problem lies on the right side, where Dan Girardi plays top pairing minutes and Kevin Klein has been bouncing between second and third pair. Brady Skjei has moved to that side to try to stabilize everything.

Dylan McIlrath wasn’t the answer. Adam Clendening may or may not be a viable bottom-pairing guy, and we won’t know until he’s in the lineup more consistently. Alain Vigneault is going to lean on his guys until major roster decisions are made down the road. So let’s try to get into AV’s head and understand why he’s making the decisions he’s making, instead of just bashing him or the players blindly.

It’s clear Ryan McDonagh is the top defenseman on this team. He’s going to get those minutes as well. The struggle has been finding someone to play with him. Starting with the vocal problem: Clendo is not a top-pairing defenseman. For all his strengths in moving the puck, he may not succeed in that role. Of course, we won’t know unless he’s put in that role, but I have my doubts¬†in that role.

The loudest Clendo supports are clamoring about his CF%, which is pretty stellar at the moment. However there’s more to the position than CF%, as we’ve stressed here countless times. Clendo does make a great first pass and has superior passing to at least half of the defensemen currently playing regularly. I’d like to see him get a game or two in that role, but that’s my own personal opinion. It’s clear AV does not want him in that role, and that’s the theme of this post.

Sticking with who to play with McDonagh, Klein has struggled this year and has also struggled in that role. Nick Holden struggled in that role. Putting Skjei there severely limits the bottom-four’s effectiveness. By process of elimination, that leaves Girardi, who is the only player with documented success with McDonagh. But it’s worth noting that success was at least three seasons ago. AV has a history of leaning on his guys, and Girardi is his guy, for better or for worse.

Now that we understand how Girardi gets these minutes, the rest of the defense is pretty easy to figure out. Marc Staal has been the guy behind McDonagh forever, so he’s easy to figure out as the 2LD in AV’s thought process. Skjei has been the best non-McDonagh defenseman, so he slides into the 2RD spot, even if he’s a lefty.

That leaves Holden, someone who came with a blessing and who has played significantly better in the 3LD role. 3RD is Klein, since Skjei has passed him on the depth chart. Since Clendo is not an AV guy, he’s the odd man out.

Personally, I’d like to see Skjei play with McDonagh and put Clendo with Staal on the second pair. That leaves Holden and one of Girardi/Klein as the bottom pair. It’s not ideal, but I think it maximizes potential on the roster. Clearly AV has a different thought process, if my inferences in this post are accurate.

"Figuring out Alain Vigneault's thought process on the defense", 3 out of 5 based on 18 ratings.
Categories : Defense, Rants


  1. amy says:

    the defense has been looking good as of late

  2. Peter says:

    Clear-headed evaluation Dave. Clendening may not be stellar, but the young man has played pretty well and has passing skills. Putting him with Staal and seeing if it works makes sense.

    Skjei has been damn good. He makes mistakes, but that is to be expected. He also makes very, very good plays and will only get better the more he plays. There is a lot of upside for that talented kid.

  3. SalMerc says:

    Let’s also try to be fair here. The last two games were not caused by breakdowns of the defense. We lost (essentially) 3-2 against Columbus (except for a late empty net goal and gave up 2 goals against Florida, one being a deflections off of JT. All of a sudden, our high-powered offense went dormant. It happens.

    The defense is slow, its old, its overpaid, yada, yada yada. It’s all that, but was it isn’t is responsible for the last two losses.

    Give me a defense that holds the opposition to an average 2.5 goals a game and you have a pretty good defense (not stellar). Our offense took the last 2 nights off. I am more worried that without Zinbad we go into a tailspin than our defense crumbles in the next 5, but if anyone can exploit our defense, home and home with Pitt can do it.

    Let’s see if the Nash line can do some damage in this home and home.

    • Tim says:

      The offense can’t do anything without speed through the neutral zone. The D can’t move the puck at all. So you get hemmed, dump, and change- then rinse and repeat. The offense all comes from the back. You can’t carry the puck in without speed. Your D needs to be able to move the puck and skate with the puck. That is how O is created.

      • SalMerc says:

        So we did it great for the first 12 and it all stopped the last 2? C’mon, what, did we age in Columbus?

  4. Al Dugan says:

    There was an innocuous play in last night’s game which put absolute fear in my heart. Girardi was trying to stay ahead of a Panther forward and it looked like he was skating in slooooow motion. McD had to come all the way over for the rescue. It really is the end of he line for him. There will be no comeback. He’s like a prize fighter taking a standing 8 count. Sooner or later the towel will come flying in from the bench.

    Not one person on this board knows if Clendo can actually play. Just like no one knew about DMc. Healthy scratch last night, and I think he won’t get his 40 games in this year and Florida will not offer a contract.

    JT with the lost weekend. We have seen him do this before. For long stretches. Hope it turns around tonight, but the NYR could have a disastrous week.

    • Chase says:

      I saw that play too. It made me realize just how much slower he is than McD. If he didn’t have a partner as good as McD that could have been a breakaway.

  5. Ray says:

    Basically agree with your ideas. It is important not to get carried away with stats, be they possession stats or goal-based stats. For example, if you have three strong offensive lines and the opposing teams really only have the defenders to stop two of them, the line that amasses the great numbers won’t be the best line, but the line that faces inferior defenders. It’s the same with the defense. Clendening has great numbers because AV has only used him against the weakest opposition. For all we know, he will fall on his face against top flight competition.

    OTOH, AV only thinks Clendo won’t succeed; he doesn’t KNOW either. IMO, AV’s biggest weakness as a coach is trying too hard to win every game. He should risk 2-3 games to see what Clendening can do with more responsibility. potential Downside – might lose a game or two that you might have won and risk the all-important President’s Trophy. potential Upside – enormous.

  6. Kris says:

    One of the biggest problems with Clendening is for whatever reason AV does not trust him. If he did we would have seen him on the ice more this season, unfortunately the only way he is going to earn that trust is if he is forced into the lineup (by injury) and doesnt have any hiccups. While that is not fair to him, unfortunately that is the only way I see him getting a true shot at keeping a role. Putting him in to give guys rest on a back to back, (like he was probably slated for tonight, which will most likely change now with Mika out) will not give him a chance to hold a spot.

    I love what I’ve seen from Skjei, if he goes to the top unit then the bottom 4 is a combo of Girardi/Holden/Klein/Staal and that has me worried. However, it has to be tested and this could be the best time to test it with Pit and Philly matchups. Dont worry about the results of everything else just if he can handle the top pairing responsibilities. If he can that could give Gorton a choice of add either the top pair RHD (which is expensive) or add a second pair defenseman which would be cheaper.

  7. Johnny Red says:

    I agree with you but we must remember who this coach is: This is a man who will stick with the players(mostly the veterans)he trust despite how they”re playing. Do we forget Glass, or playing Girardi with a broken knee cap all year, rather then using a healthy Mcllrath?
    This is the coach we have. The only way these D men will change is if there is an injury, so let’s not kid ourselves into thinking any other way! For better or worse this will be the way he runs this team no matter what any one says.

    • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

      Johnny and Kris, perhaps you are right, but a little perspective is needed.

      Clendening is playing for his sixth organization in just 2+ seasons. His former teams were very quick to move on from him. You can’t judge from a small sample of pre-season or regular season games that Clendening could help us at all. AV is largely evaluating him the way five other coaches did–marginal talent at best.

      As for Johnny’s examples, Glass was on the roster because the roster lacked depth and there were injuries last season. Who are you going to go with, Hrivik? Hasn’t proven a thing. If AV was that obsessed with Glass, then why isn’t he on the team right now, especially with injuries? Because their are better options now where as last year and the year before, there really weren’t.

      Girardi was medically cleared to play. Hockey players play through injuries all the time. This is non-story. And based on the how little interest there was in McIlrath and how he’s spending just as much time in street clothes as a Panther as he did as a Ranger, then we can safely conclude that AV was correct in his assessment of a player that at this point, is nothing more than a borderline AHL/NHL player.

      Clendening and McIlrath have one thing in common….the fans always fall in love with young players with marginal resumes and think that somehow, they MUST play and would be better than the guys we have in there now. And while that is possible, it’s hardly probable.

      • Kris says:

        Eddie, by no means do I think Clendening would be a stud but I think he could fit in the bottom pair of AVs style.

      • Reenavipul says:

        Clendening has superior puck handling skills and is as good as Holden. AV is just not good at talent evaluation or deployment.

        • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

          And you base that statement on what? Any facts to support your statement?

        • Chris72 says:

          We are back to AV can’t evaluate talent again? So when a guy like Grabner has success in AV’s system, it is despite the coach? And when players fail to provide quality minutes, it’s because of the coach and his inability to properly evaluate them?

          I can’t remember the last time a New York coach (in any sport) has accomplished what AV has accomplished while being criticized and loathed by so many at the same time.

          I think some people need to look around the league and try to find an organization who has experienced as much success as the Rangers have with Vigneault behind the wheel. AV didn’t give Girardi and Staal those contracts, that was Sather. The coach just has the “minuscule” task of trying to put those guys in position to succeed, which AV has done.

          Ranger fans are beginning to suffer from “Yankeeitis”, the belief that anything short of a Championship is a failure. Just remember, there are 29 other organizations that work 24/7 at trying to achieve the same exact goal. Reaching the Finals is incredibly hard. Just ask Toronto, St.Louis, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Islanders, Arizona and a bunch of other organizations who would have loved to enjoy the amount of success the Rangers have since AV came aboard.

  8. Richter1994 says:

    Is that AV’s hand on his neck in the pic, or a BSB poster?

  9. Richter1994 says:

    Exactly right Dave, if these are the pieces we will have to play then: