The Rangers have turned the corner defensively

March 21, 2017, by

Ryan McDonagh has regained his status as one of the league’s elite defensemen

In hindsight, the 7-6 circus loss to the Dallas Stars on January 17 might have been the low-water mark of the 2016-2017 season for the Rangers. That marked the third time in 11 games the club yielded as many as seven goals and the Blueshirts were mired in a stretch of atrocious defensive play that made playoff contention seem comical.

But since that night, New York has given up four goals or more only six times in 27 games, and just twice surrendered as many as five.

In fact, the Rangers have allowed just 64 goals over that timeframe – a stingy 2.37 goals-against per game, which would rank fourth in the league if it were the team’s season-long rate.

The Blueshirts have actually allowed roughly three more shot attempts per game since the Dallas debacle, but data from Corsica.Hockey indicates there has been a dramatic difference in the quality of those shots.

At even strength New York was allowing 8.93 scoring chances per 60 minutes before the Stars game, compared to 7.57 since. Taking into account all game situations, the drop-off is 9.59 to 8.24.

While Emmanuel Perry’s expected goals against statistic reflects a lesser difference, the reduced scoring chances against combined with some visible on-ice changes have made a world of difference.

The systemic breakdowns that were rampant during the slump haven’t been eliminated completely, but they’re far and few between now. Revived NY Rangers blogger Kevin DeLury flagged the change over a month ago and the momentum has continued in recent weeks.

It of course starts in net, where Henrik Lundqvist has been his old self for a couple months now, and he has been buoyed by ace backup Antti Raanta.

It also certainly hadn’t hurt that several of the team’s more defensively responsible forwards have returned from lengthy injury absences including Rick Nash, Mika Zibanejad and briefly, Jesper Fast.

There’s also been addition by subtraction on the blueline, where veterans Kevin Klein and Dan Girardi have been replaced by the surprisingly effective tandem of Steven Kampfer and Adam Clendening.

The acquisition of Brendan Smith, marked growth of Brady Skjei and Oscar Lindberg, and return to Norris form by Ryan McDonagh have all been major factors as well.

The result is a squad that’s not quite up to its usual standards defensively, but is now ranked a respectable No. 11 in the league in goals against and once again looks like it could be competitive in the postseason.

"The Rangers have turned the corner defensively", 5 out of 5 based on 11 ratings.
Categories : Defense


  1. SalMerc says:

    Defense is and always will be a team concept. People tend to point fingers at individuals, but the gang of 5 need to play team defense. Your points about the return of responsible forwards should not be taken lightly. It is important. Just as the points on Kampfer and Smith, who play within their strengths and do not get caught out of position. Let’s hope Girardi and Klein don’t mess up the chemistry.

  2. Walt says:

    The only way this team advances is if the forwards come back to help on defense, and Hank stands on his head….This has to be drilled into the minds of the team if there is any chance of advancing beyond the first round!!!!!!!!!

  3. Peter says:

    Team defense and whether the team’s forwards are responsible defensively will likely be the key to the Rangers’ fate in the playoffs. The blue line will have its limitations no matter who plays out of those available.

  4. Ranger17 says:

    So let me understand this we have a better over all D with G and KK out but when they are able to play again they go right back into the line up . Make sense they make more money so they have to play over the D Men who get paid less but play better D

  5. Dave says:

    Let’s see what happens when Girardi comes in for Clendening.

    • Chris F says:

      It’s all going to fall apart once we swap out our 7th defenseman? That doesn’t seem irrational at all.

      • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

        It’s not just the swap, it’s the roles also. Clendening has been playing effective 3rd pairing minutes. If Girardi comes back and plays that same role, then I’d tend to agree with the assertion that it won’t have as big an impact. IF Girardi is moved back to his top pairing role, then we are back to where we started.

        • Chris F says:

          Yeah, I can appreciate the view that removing Clendening from the 3rd pair, while inserting Girardi back on the 1st pair probably overall detracts from the team’s defensive effectiveness, not because Clendening is a better defenseman than Girardi –he’s not– but because Girardi won’t be able to sustain 1st pair QOC.

          But I reject that it brings us back to where we started, considering Brendan Smith wasn’t part of that equation. He’s been quietly solid, and shouldn’t be overlooked in terms of the balance he’s provided to the blue line.

          • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

            What I mean by “where we started” is a sub-optimal deployment. Smith has definitely helped, but again, the impact is minimal if his usage is changed (i.e. lose his top pairing role to Girardi).

      • Dave says:

        As I’ve always said, it’s not the player. It’s the usage.

  6. craig says:

    Thanks for a refreshing article Kevin,
    Our defense is not as much a disaster lately as many say. Smith has really helped.
    I vaguely remember someone saying that Winnipeg defenseman Trouber is light years better then Skeij. Really? The long layoff may even help Girardi, when and if he returns. AV has to use him the right way.

    • Ranger17 says:

      AV will not use him the right way in the fans view or as we think he should be used . on the third pair . He will go right back in with McDonagh , when he is ready with no sheltered minutes . Question is who will sit if and when KK is able to play, Holden or G or Smith . I just don’t see KK getting back in when he is cleared to play

    • sherrane says:

      Jacob Trouba is the player you are talking about. He won the IIHF Best Player Award for Defencemen in the 2013 World Junior Ice Hockey Championship playing for the US Gold Medal team. That team also included current Rangers J.T. Miller and Jimmy Vesey. While we can discuss whether Trouba or Skjei is better, Trouba being a right handed shot would likely be considered the more valuable player by the majority of people here if both were Rangers.

      • paulronty says:

        No question.

      • craig says:

        Sorry sherrane for the misspell. Yes he is may be more valuable to the Rangers need as a rightly, but talent wise, he is not “lightyears” ahead of Skjei, who has more points, is as good a skater, and is developing and getting better and better on defense as the year progresses..

  7. Peter says:

    The combination of Skjei and Clendening worked well in the Wild game which was a wildly fast paced contest. Neither Brady or Adam are grinders, but they can skate and move the puck. AV, for all of his fondness of the speed game, seems to prefer stay at home shut down types on the blue line.

    So, when a Girardi is cleared to play I expect that he will play. I hope, but I am not at all expecting, that AV will pair Smith with McDonough and use Girardi as a more sheltered defender. I have a feeling that Klein might sit in favor of Holden.

    • Hatrick Swayze says:

      ” AV, for all of his fondness of the speed game, seems to prefer stay at home shut down types on the blue line.”

      Has had me scratching my head since Spring of 15… which was probably late to start the scratching.

      • Egelstein says:

        I’m honestly looking at Girardi coming back as the end of the honeymoon. Would love if AV proves me wrong though, and at least shelters him. Will not hold my breath on that either, though.

  8. paulronty says:

    The narrative that separates the defencemen from the forwards in terms of how the team plays defensively is entirely illogical. It resides on the same level of theory that posited the separation of mind from body. When the forwards don’t backcheck, the defence will be overburdened & made vulnerable. In this day & age, defencemen to a degree are expected to drive offence without sacrificing their defensive responsibilities, and the same in reverse applies to forwards. That’s why the Russians in the 70s developed the concept of stable five man units, which was foreign to the NA style.

    • Kevin Baumer says:

      I agree with this. But who would you categorize as a defensive liability up front?

      • paulronty says:

        Tough question, as I don’t see it as a question of a few guys, but as a systemic issue , involving multiple players. If the idea is to rely on that stretch pass & jump the zone, then the defensive zone coverage breaks down. Last year it was easier to pick out the defensive laggards(Hayes, Brass, Zucc), this year not so much, especially early in the season when the forwards propelled the D-zone breakout & scored a ton of goals with passing wizardry. One guy I’d like to see play better in the D-zone is Kreider, who could be a lot better there. He & Fast tend to watch the game too much in the D-zone.

  9. Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

    Excellent article as always Kevin. I had posted a quick analysis showing how, since the mid-January debacle vs the Stars, that there has been a concerted effort rot take better care of things in the defensive zone. There’s no question our defense (and I agree with Paul on this that it’s not just about the defense, but the offense coming back to help out as well), has gotten significantly better. It does seem that it has come at the expense of our offense, who’s production has tailed off dramatically over this same period. But that’s what needed to be done.

    However, some have alluded to what will happen when Girardi and/or Klein are put back into the lineup. Let’s look at the GAA and W-L record since the Dallas debacle–

    11 games with BOTH Girardi and Klein in the lineup–

    2.1 GAA. 8-2-1

    4 games with Klein out and Girardi playing–

    3,3 GAA. 2-2

    2 games with Girardi out and Klein playing–

    2.5 GAA. 2-0

    10 games with Girardi and Klein both out–

    2.5 GAA. 5-4-1

    Statistically speaking, we played our best hockey after the Dallas debacle with Girardi and Klein in the linuep. We’ve been less effective with both of them out.

    There’s little doubt Girardi will be back in for Clendening. But how or if Klein fits in is anyone’s guess. No way Smith comes out to make room for Klein. But perhaps Holden?

    • Walt says:

      Good points E3, but if Holden then is replaced by Klein, we are stuck in our defensive zone all night long. At least Holden carries the puck out of the zone better than the other two guys. Good analysis just the same though!!!!!

    • Reenavipul says:

      There are much more granular avenues available via Corsica to support your point beyond GA%, I’m not able to do so at the moment.

    • Reenavipul says:

      So going into Corsica, I had them do a whole host of CF% calcs depending on who was in the lineup.

      There was a bucket of 4 games where all three were in the lineup.
      CF% of 4=50, 5=44, 8=46

      Then a 4 game bucket where Clendo was out.
      CF% 5=49, 8=46

      Then another 4 game bucket where all 3 rotated:
      CF% 4=44.26, 5=45.28, 8=50.09 If you isolate the 7 game stretch after Girardi came back from the stitches and played, he had CF% of 44.41

      The final tranche is with both Girardi & Klein out, the largest sample of 15 games.
      CF% 4=57.6

      What do I get out of this:
      Girardi’s CF% is hurt by matchups, but isn’t going to rise to Clendo’s numbers in the same role.

      Clendos CF% is high due to sheltered minutes and would regress in a top pair role, but would still be ahead of Girardi.

      Klein is consistently sub par.
      Klein is consistently sub par.

      • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

        Thanks Walt! I agree about Holden which makes removing him risky.

        And thanks to Reena to bring some much needed and additional detail to clearly a sketchy analaysis by me. I simply wanted to put it out there to say that certainly, it’s not a slam dunk as to what the Rangers should do here once Girardi and Klein are ready to return.