Nov
22

Defense Wins Championships

November 22, 2017, by

ryan mcdonagh

The below post was written by Rob Luker. Rob used to write for Blueshirt Banter, but retired for a while. He sent me this and I was more than happy to post it. You should be following him on Twitter here. He is a great follow with tons of good hockey insight. He also wrote this article from the summer.

I presume most or all of you have seen the recent Progressive Insurance Dad Support group commercial? There’s a little bit that applies to the Rangers, at the moment:

“Next thing you know I’m telling strangers that defense wins championships … well it does.”

The reason I start with this is not because I’m a staunch believer in that defense is the key to championships (although as I approach 30 here I have definitely said a few of those lines), but rather because the Rangers offense we’ve seen so far through 21 games may be the best we’ve seen since the 2013-2015 seasons. The defensive effort by this team, however, is so far the worst of any NYR team since public advanced stats have been available (2007-08). What am I basing this all off of? Expected goals, for and against, per 60 minutes. If you are not familiar, check out this original piece by @DTMAboutHeart and Emmanuel Perry’s version via Corsica (5v5, score adjusted).

For weeks now I’ve watched the NYR corner of twitter/the internet mostly enjoy the recent play of the Rangers, with a few caveats. This won’t be surprising to anyone watching night in and night out, but the key to the win streak was mostly a red-hot power play, Henrik Lundqvist putting up a 0.927 all-situations Save%, and an improved (albeit still bad) defensive effort. There have also been a few folks correctly pointing out that this team is most likely not a Stanley Cup contender due to a myriad of depth reasons, and I’m ok with that overall. With all that said, despite the glaring hole at 3C and AV’s spin-the-wheel Defensive pair philosophy, I still think there is a better team given the roster options as we sit here today, especially when it comes to lowering the xGA/60 rate that could lead to more long-term success this season.

The above chart provides some context before diving into season-level and player-level data. The Tom Renney years, by just peeking at generic shots for and against, was very disciplined/structured hockey. The Rangers rose to and sustained a top 10 level of shots for all while consistently ranking in the top 10 for shots against (meaning fewer shots on net). This gave way to Johnny Torts, who played a higher-event brand of hockey while Sather & co. collected some real offensive assets to help. Vingeault came into a pretty good situation, and while the defensive game has gone to shit, the offense has at least stayed in the top-half of the league (yes, NYR ranks 31st in xGA/60 as of 11/21).

So, what could potentially help bring down this horrendous expected Goals Against per 60 rate? Well, first off, a lot has been made of AV and his cronies personnel decisions, and rightfully so given how Gorton constructed this team. Let’s identify the culprits:

I went with a minimum of 5 GP because I’m really, really hoping Boo Nieves stays up and that we never see Adam Cracknell again. For further context: the average team xGA/60 so far this season is 2.26. The bad news with this is that every Ranger except Pavel Buchnevich is above 2.26 (he is at exactly 2.26). That being said, we pretty clearly have three tiers here of “bad, real bad, and horrible” – let’s focus on the right side of the chart, first with the defense:

As we can see pretty clearly, our top three regular offenders in xGA/60 are seeing their highest rates of their careers. Brendan Smith flat out needs to be better, but he also came from a Detroit club that was historically staunch at limiting good chances for their opponents. McDonagh has grown up on Broadway, but also had to wear around a 212 pound vest by the name of Girardi for years on end. Skjei in his brief career thus far is proving to be a high-event player, with only Smith having a higher xGF/60 rate this year. From a Corsi Attempts per 60 the trend is still similar with the exception of McDonagh (which was expected now that Girardi isn’t sliding around in his own zone).

I’m not going to go as far to say I had high hopes for Desharnais, but at the same time I don’t think many thought he wasn’t a bad option to center the bottom six back in the summer. Miller and Vesey are akin to McDonagh – they’ve so far only experienced a system that, whether by design or not, is all about trading chances and speed. The Corsi Attempts per 60 spell much of the same trouble.

This ultimately brings me to my not-revolutionary point, which is that something needs to change when the Rangers are in their own zone, and ideally before they get much further into the season. To keep it concise, here’s a list of items that may help, even if there’s little chance of them happening:

  • Brendan Smith finding his footing
  • Not playing Steven Kampfer
    • His xGA/60 is on the lower half, but his xGF% is the worst amongst NYR D.
  • Lindy Ruff not coaching the defense
  • Promoting Boo Nieves to 3C (via general TOI), while Desharnais find s a groove at 4C
  • Trying Vinni Lettieri over Paul Carey as the depth forward for Desharnais

Now, of course, I’ll go ahead and state that expected goals are not the end-all-be-all of evaluating an NHL team, nor is any statistic at this point. The challenge for the Rangers this year is that right now they rank 23rd in Corsi For %, and typically the “contenders” as we reach the spring are teams that are top 10 xGF% teams with at the very least a middling-ranked CF%.

In the end, I sincerely hope that NYR management and coaches are going to try some new ideas for the defensive zone, because I’m not quite ready to give up on this group of forwards (not to mention Lundqvist).

"Defense Wins Championships", 1 out of 5 based on 10 ratings.
Categories : Analysis

24 comments

  1. Leathereck says:

    As soon as you mentioned Kampfer I had to laugh this off.

    Kampfer has been solid while he has played….your stats are soooo very flawed as usual.

    In fact Kampfer has been better than McD

    Where do you get this nonsense

    No I am not saying Kampfer is the answer, I am saying he has not been a liability

    • flatbush says:

      Agree with Leathereck. TOOO much with stats and analysis. Why shouldn’t Ruff coach the D? Answer , cause he should be head coach! The most consistent D has been Brady. All the rest have been exposed from time to time. TOO much nitpicking on the D. Every team has the same problems on the back end but your forwards play a great role in the D zone. As a group they need to win the wall and NOT be soft.
      Another bone of contention is this overly pie in the sky idea, “if we only had a real 3 Center.” WE have two choices Hayes or Miller period.

  2. upstate tom says:

    no to letteri as depth forward, he needs to play full time.

  3. Richter1994 says:

    Defense Wins Championships

    The possession monsters of Pittsburgh would like to have a word.

    • Egelstein says:

      Took the words right out of my mouth…or rather my hands, I suppose!

      All jokes aside, though…I do think that even a pedestrian/league-average type turnaround for the defense would do wonders for this team. As has been discussed previously on this page and other NYR blogs, however…when the personnel on the ice has changed as much as it did this past off-season, and the defensive assistant coach has been a different guy for three straight years, and the deployment has been shuffled more than a deck of 52 at the Bellagio…might be time for Alain to reconsider his system on that side of the puck (…I won’t hold my breath, because I’m not trying to die).

      • Richter1994 says:

        You have to have at least one side of the ice that’s dominant, either O or D.

        Rangers have neither. They have an all world goalie that gives them a chance no matter who is in front of him.

        For God’s sakes, the Rangers have to be in a zone type D strategy. It’s effing painful to see how inept some of the Rangers’ D men are, and going to the games and seeing the whole ice and how out of position they are doesn’t help.

    • Walt says:

      Richter

      The Preds gave them a run for their money, and made Crosby & Co work their tail off last Cup final!!!! More times than not, the defense does win championships for you, in any sport…..

      • Richter1994 says:

        Carolina and the Ducks have some of the better defensive groups in the game, are they winning the Cup?

    • Rob L says:

      I’d suggest reading past the article title.

  4. Reenavipul says:

    And AV announces that McD is out until Sunday, *then* will be evaluated.

    Just schedule the surgery for tomorrow and be done with it.

    But sooper geenius coach will monitor this until Xmas or Armageddon, which ever takes longest to figure out.

    Schmuck.

    • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

      You are ridiculous. How in the world is this the coach’s call? It’s the medical staff that decides the timelines and approaches, not the coach. You have no way of knowing if surgery is even needed. But you establish some bogus timeline that, if not met, proves categorically that the player automatically needs the most extreme solution possible. Your irrational hatred of the coach knows no bounds. Even organizational medical decisions are somehow AV’s call. Absurd.

      I remind you, you were 100% wrong about Marc Staal last year when you insisted he was heading to LTIR when in fact he was improving and his return was imminent.

      Maybe surgery will eventually be necessary, but what the heck is the rush? You are not a doctor….you only play one in the blogosphere.

      • Reenavipul says:

        And how bad did Staal suck when he “came back” from concussion protocol? How much better has he been since he got extended time off?

        The defence rests.

        AV gets the blame because the fish rots from the head down on day to day ops. Apparently even roster decisions according to Denis Zaripov.

        The trainer(and medical staff in general) is irrelevant as they work under the direction of the team, not the player. Their job is to get the player on the ice as much as humanly possible.

        That they can’t tells you all you need to know about McDonagh’s injury unless you believe the party line of Penn Station Pravda.

    • Spozo says:

      So what is Jim Ramsey’s role in this situation?

      Is one of the most well respected trainers in professional sports as incompetent as you say the coach is and completely fumbling this medical situation?

      Or is he just standing by idly while AV goes against his expert medical opinion (which you have decided is that he needed surgery a week ago) and puts his captain in harms away?

      • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

        Yeah…it’s hilarious! If you read Reena’s post on most matters relating to prospects and other aspects of hockey, as we saw on the previous page, the guy comes across as brilliant. (Not saying that sarcastically…I mean it). Then it’s like space pods take over his body, and he goes off on these weird riffs where he wants us to believe the coach makes the medical calls and the Rangers medical staff, among the best in the business, are nothing more than a bunch of flunkies.

        BTW, on the pre-game, AV said about McDonagh “he did all of his testing and it’s what they thought it was. It’s a mild strain and they (the medical staff, NOT AV) are going to shut him down until Sunday and then re-evaluate him and go from there.”

        Yeah, wow, they sure sound like a bunch of irresponsible “schmucks”. I mean, if it IS a mild strain, I’m sure every medical specialist on the planet would advise having season ending surgery to correct the problem! 🙂

        • Spozo says:

          It’s one thing to have an opinion. It’s another to suggest that AV has a stranglehold on medical matters and is able to over rule Jim Ramsey on the issue.

          It’s funny the lengths which people will go to in order to insult the coach.

          But maybe since it’s the biggest party night of the year and people have had a little bit of grandpas cough medicine.

          • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

            Could be, but when it comes to AV, Reena doesn’t need a holiday excuse to start dipping into medicine cabinet. It’s a 365 day a year exercise.

    • Mancunian Candidate says:

      Dr Reena—is McD’s hernia as serious as that recent diagnosis of yours about an MCL sprain for Henrik? Because I’ve noticed that Hank has started eight or nine straight since your Diagnostic Clinic said that Henrik had sprained his MCL—does Henrik know about this injury yet? Someone should tell him if so.

  5. Bobby B says:

    TRIPLE E, Egelstein, thank you both for the comments regarding the documentary ICE GUARDIANS. I will respectfully disagree with you both, on the subject of the need for intimidation in the NHL. Triple E, you also need to watch THE LAST GLADIATORS ( Chris Nilan is the center character of the film ) . Eddie, get your hands on a great Ranger book now circulating ( We Did Everything But Win) by Emile Francis. Awesome book, Francis blames Vic Hadfield for not jumping in during the Schultz beating of Dale Rolfe ( till this day one of the lowest moments in Rangers history) . Francis felt Hadfield who was the team Captain,( he was one of the toughest guy’s on the roster) who was playing the series with numerous injuries, he was totally useless that series, he begged Francis to dress him for game 7, said he would do everything and anything to help the team win. Francis was shocked Hadfield stood by and watched and did nothing, he felt if he was thrown out as the 3rd man in, no big deal, he was useless that series. That play put all the momentum to the Flyers, 1974 Ranger team was CUP worthy, we lost to a bunch of thugs, Nicky Fotiu becomes a Ranger 2 years too late!!! If Nicky was on the 74 Rangers we win the CUP!!!

    • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

      I definitely want to see the movie and read the book. Thanks Bobby!

      • Bobby B says:

        Eddie and all Brother & Sister Bloggers enjoy your holiday, much to be grateful and thankful for!!! Eddie for the record I drive a Mustang GT, not a DeLorean 🙂 Lets go Rangers, trade for Evander Kane, and go after Josh Manson, grit and toughness, along with skill, and a Hot goalie, wins Cups!!

        • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

          Sounds like a sweet ride in the Florida sun, Bobby! You have a fantastic holiday too!

  6. HARLEMBLUES says:

    You can have all the defense in the world but you better score one more goal or point than the other team. O wins championships but you better come up with a key save or stop. N’ville won because their defense creates offensive and a lot of it.