Three games, three glaring issues on the left side of the blue line

When the season started, we knew the Rangers would have an issue on the blue line. They were returning close to the same blue line as last season, which was terrible, and there was only so much that a new coach could do. The team is going to be adjusting to the system, but overall the results have been relatively on par with expectations thus far.

One area that is a recurring issue is the number of shots coming from the left side of the ice in the defensive zone. In all three goal breakdowns thus far, there have been three heatmaps that show an above normal rate of shots against from that side of the ice. Here’s the Nashville game:

Here’s the Buffalo game:

And here’s the Carolina game:


The blue areas on the left side of the ice are where most of the shots are coming from against the Rangers. So far this year, it’s been Brady Skjei, Marc Staal, and Brendan Smith on the left side of the ice.

This is in line with what Rob said yesterday, that both Smith and Staal have been relatively bad to start the season. While Smith had a strong preseason and there is hope he will get better, Staal has been continuing his trend of being absolutely atrocious. Skjei has been good so far, but he’s not enough to bring the other two up.

It’s interesting that the shots are coming from the left side of the ice, but Kevin Shattenkirk is the one getting scratched. Eventually the new system should cut down on the distance of those shots –right now they are very close to the net, especially in Carolina– but eventually the personnel will need to change.

We are just three games into the season, but there is already an alarming trend on the left side of the defense. I guess we shouldn’t be overly surprised by this. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the long term.

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  • Fyi the Nashville game is posted twice.

    But definitely a good thing to keep an eye on. I’m mostly of the opinion that we need more than three games to really get a sense of anything. This could easily just be a small blip as everyone gets adjusted, as you say.

  • It’s early but again the main pylon is Staal, and he is playing his way out of the NHL. I won’t be surprised if Hajek doesn’t replace him mid season.

    Look Smith is giving his best, and it’s proving to be not enough to stay in the line up, but at least Quinn is being fair to everyone, and letting them play thru their problems. Shatty is proving me to be right. I was against signing him, and he is showing us why. Home town discount or not, he isn’t sound on the D side of his game, and I’d rather see ADA in there at this stage of the season proving himself.

    Hold on folks, it’s a long ride but there is plenty of light at the end of this tunnel!!!!!!!!

    • Shatty has been “meh”, he’s far from being the big problem which as Dave points out lies on the left side. Staal is the worst offender, followed by Smith and even Skjei was brutal in Game 3.

  • Thanks for this analysis. You make a great point about the left side being the problem and I think Staal and Smith should see the press box at some point very soon. I think it’s fair to say though that they are playing as expected. No question it’s a major problem, but any improvement from those two is based on hope more than anything. However; regarding Shattenkirk I think it’s fair to say there is an expectation there that he would be much improved after his knee surgery last year. So far that is not the case. And I applaud Quinn for benching him. Considering Quinn and Shatty’s long history, to me, it’s more of a statement to everyone that they need to play up to their expectations.

    But more important than benching is development. Let ADA take Shattenkirk’s spot. He earned it after the Carolina game and the pre-season. I will also add ADA should not be rotated in and out of the line up considering the way he’s played vs the rest of the group. It’s good to bench underperforming veterans but it’s not good to rotate a guy like ADA in and out of the line up when he seems to be finally putting it all together.

    • Good point about not rotating ADA in and out. In fact, none of the young players should be sitting regularly. They should not be residing in the press box unless the coach sees an absolute necessity.

    • Putting Smith in the press box sounds like a useless strategy. It will kill any confidence that he has brought back up over the course of last summer. If that ever happens than be prepare to keep him out for good because he’s not coming back from that. He’s a average 3rd pair who should see limited PK minutes.

      • What we should be doing is putting Smith in position to succeed so he can be traded for Depth on defense.

      • Smith was a bad trade and a worse re signing….Hopefully he plays well this year and someone takes him

  • I wanted them to cut bait with smith after the Ottawa series. the guy (like skjei) does nothing exceptionally well. like i know they invested a lot of trade capital with smith but sometimes you need to use your ‘stop loss’ instead of doubling down on your losing position hoping it improves. but it appears the gorton loves vanilla players. and somehow was duped into a bidding war vs no one handing skjei 30m. anyway theres the left side of your defense.

    • like why should there be any surprise about the “glaring hole on the right side” when we are rolling out (maybe) one bonafide 2nd pairing guy there? (my fear is that they reach for this need with a top 3 pick bc you know gordie traveled to Kxgvzxtan and back all year scouting)

    • 2017 playoffs vs MTL was the worst thing to ever happen to NYR fans. I rewatched those series last summer and besides the physicality that Smith brought, he was T.E.R.R.I.B.L.E.

          • hahaha I am not…You just got to get to know me and my style…I am tired of seeing us lose

          • Don’t get me wrong, if we went drinking with each other we might be looking at major penalties, maybe with 10 min misconduct for abuse of officials tossed in. But maybe it’s time to bury the hatchet, can’t hate on a fellow punker.

  • Three of our slower defenseman are on the left, so the zone coverage should help, but they find it hard to transition back to their spot when the puck moves quickly. We may need to ask the center to drop more and cover the slot more so the defenseman can “cheat” left.

    Either way, we are trying to resolve consistent defensive liabilities on the left side, but without solid replacements, we are going to have issues all year.

  • I am hopeful this changes a bit as the season starts, players adapt to the new system’s requirements, learn each others styles and get in condition as well, all we can do at this point is, hope, pray and AHHHHHHHHHHHH FREAK OUT!!!!



  • There are only so many things you can do to cover up player deficiencies. The new system should help, but the same failings of the same players shows that we need improvement (like better players) on the blueline.

    The offense seems to have some better players, but they need a consistent line with positive goals. Game 4 and ZBK already broken up? I understand the need to make changes, but I think the first line should stay together. Hayes & Zucc need to play harder. Chytil is young, but it is time to play every shift hard.

  • I thought maybe with a new coach we’d have a different approach, but clearly we all deluded ourselves into think that AV alone was the problem. It starts from the top and their inability to assess the blue line. They trade actual draft picks to get clowns like McQuaid (who has actually been fine). Anybody with a couple of brain cells rubbing together can see the left side has been bludgeoned and that Staal is a second pair d-man in the AHL. Yet the message is sent to Shatt who has been alright but nowhere near as bad as the bloated carcass of Staal.

    Basically our only hope now is that some of this young talent blows up enough to overcome the mediocrity that is our FO and our new HC.

    • This defense wouldn’t be any worse with Claesson and Gilmour in for Staal and Smith, but the point of this season is to lose, not win—so in some ways what’s going on is according to plan and helping NYR in the long term.

      Lindgren, Hajek, Rykov—pretty sure at least 2 of the 3 will have roster spots next year. There’s no way McQuaid makes 2 seasons with NYR, and Staal will be bought out after this year I think.

      Quinn can’t be judged on what he’s doing yet, although I agree that Shatty is an odd target to be scratched when Staal has been way worse. All I can say is that the team is 0-3 and they’re still more fun to watch than the last two seasons under Vigneault. I think there’s a trade coming too, by game 25.

      • Shatty is a RHD and scratching him allows ADA and Pionk to play. There is no equivalent on the left side. If Staal continues to play poorly I’m sure Claesson will get in but he is not a prospect.

        Smith and McQuaid should both play regularly to the trade deadlilne. If they play well there will definitely be a market for playoff contenders looking for veteran dmen who adds toughness. McQuaid has been their best dman. Smith has not carried over his good preseason play but that can change and there are no worthwhile alternatives at this point. They both should be worth a 2nd round draft pick at the TD.

        • Talking about the left side of the defense only, since that’s what Dave’s article is mostly concerned with. I said that the D wouldn’t be any worse with Staal and Smith scratched for Claesson and Gilmour. This defense flat-out sucks, right side or left side—I’d say the only defenseman who’s looked better than horrible so far is DeAngelo. I expect this to change as the team gets better at playing to Quinn’s system.

          Put it this way: any of the 6 defensemen who started the season in the lineup could or should be scratched, and DeAngelo has looked like the only creative and active player among the group of dmen. It’s dismal, but that’s the point, I guess—to lose for Hughes.

          • The issue is that we are 0-3 mostly because of poor reffing. Buffalo scored with too many men on the ice. Nashville got lucky calls as well. The only game where we shat the bed was Carolina, and we still put up a five spot. We haven’t been playing that poorly, and our forwards are actually good. The changes that Quinn is making right now to both the backline and shaking up the lines really make no sense. Plus Hank looks good and if the coaching staff doesn’t ride him into the ground, he should be fine.

          • Strongly disagree. They’re deservedly 0-3, it’s ludicrous to blame the refs for any of these losses. The Rangers are being destroyed in possession again, and the only reason they were competitive in games 1 & 2 is that they had Hank Lundqvist saving 93.3% of the shots fired at the net.

            As far as talent—the forwards are deep but mediocre, and the defense is a joke. There’s legitimately maybe one real first line forward (Kreider) along with a bunch of 2nd liners, while the defense is made up of 2nd-3rd pair defensemen. This team is designed to bottom out, and it most likely will.

  • Bad season of learning nets us a top 5 pick in the draft. Time to relax and embrace the tank.
    Need to move Hayes and Zucc ASAP and get more kids in the lineup. It is going to be a lost year, so let the kids get some games under their belt and prepare for 2019/20.

    Game 4 will be a win, you heard it here first.

  • first goal in nashville was skjei and pionk. Skjei got caught pinching and letteri was covering and did a atrocious job of it.

    2nd goal was shattenkirk screening hank off a shot from subban from the point. This goal is going to happen.

    1st goal with buffalo skjei got caught up ice cause Vesey did had trouble with the puck in neutral ice but staal was left to face a 2 on 1 from the start of our o line.

    2nd goal was a pp goal pionk over committed after stopping a shot from a beautiful cross ice feed to the weak side. He got out of his diamond and staal was left down low with a 2 on 1 again and he tried to stop the pass across unsuccessfully. Simple over commit by Pionk something easily corrected.

    on the no goal cause it was hit with a high stick ….shatty and smith on the ice …both over commit to the offense…both let their players come right in on net and get easily beat to the net and to the loose puck after hank makes the save.

    3rd goal was a empty net and shatty got beat to a loose puck with speed.

    1st goal carolina…shatty and staal…staal takes his man out of the play …shatty over commits behind the net and cara gets a weak goal stuff in. Hank wouldn’t have let that in but shatty is to blame here.

    2nd. goal smith and mcquaid and smith does his job …takes out his man…then mcquaid is caught flat footed in front and it is a tap in goal. Zuc was late pick up his man and this was because McQuaid was just standing there.

    3rd goal ….Mcquaid gets burned by the long pass and skjei lets staal burn past him in alone on georgie …all around atrocious defense. Mcquaid could have stopped the pass or shut down his man…but nope he let him slide past him and dump a pass off to a full speed staal and skjei was left watching.

    4th goal was all georgie…just a simply back breaking goal.

    5th goal Mcquaid and skjei…skjei over commits and doesn’t mind the front of the net. Mcquaid basically lets this whole play happen with his horrible skating. And as a whole 5 man group they were just caught watching hockey in front of them. No one took a man except the guys that shouldn’t have and everyone else just spectated. It was bad.

    6th goal …was the team was broken at this point and cara was just throwing anything at the net and letting georgie see if he could stop it. Mean the goal was from the boards and gets deflected right in front and well not much you can do when it snowballs like that.

    7th goal skjei and shatty and shatty watches his man put the puck in the net instead of clearing the front of georgie ice. no better way to explain why shatty is going to be benched. Just watching hockey instead of playing it.

    8th was a empty net.

    So to all you stall haters…Not so much his fault. He just is always stuck defending 2 on 1’s cause he is a stay at home defender and so he becomes the focus after a goal. After watching all the goals against it comes down to pinching to often by skjei and shatty and pionk. I accept pionk. He has to learn. But skjei should know better by now and shatty should stop watching hockey and get more engaged. He can’t seem to find the net with his patented wrister but keeps giving up odd man rushes. You take the bad with the good but he has no good so far. Hence why he is sitting and staal isn’t. It isn’t shatty who is left to defend 2 on 1’s repeatedly and their is a obvious reason for that.

    But lets be honest here the forwards are not doing a great job either on back checking. They are not taking their man if the play breaks down the other way when someone from the d gets caught up ice. So system wide the team defense is really bad. Same old stuff as last year. Here is to Quinn holding them to a higher standard, but he can’t bench everyone so…good luck.

    I think if he can get this group to commit to the first 2 game’s play style we can get some wins. Problem I see is there is an awful tendency to want to play the run and gun style of hockey. Carrying 8 d…doesn’t exactly lend itself to sitting forwards who are not playing well. So while we rip into the d…there is the other side of the team. And the only one sitting is letteri.

    • I agree mostly, but you can’t hold the forward group and the defense group to the same standards because of course the defense is much better. Except for Pionk and DeAngelo, the rangers have a veteran defense and Quinn does not want mistakes. But the forward group with no real first line and a bunch of kids is clearly a work in progress that commands patience.

      I realize this isn’t the party line, but the analysis here is simple. Forwards score goals (good), defenseman allow shots (bad).

    • Odielicious, thank you for the recaps. I mostly agree. I do not hate Stahl but how many times a game does he look like he is standing stihl and gets skated by like a child.

      • In my opinion not as often as I have seen shatty have it happen to him. Staal takes his man for the most part and compensates for his overall lack of speed by backing up. Which is were I tend to agree with the haters of staal. His gap control is not what it used to be and he has a huge tendency to defend vs. push the neutral zone play or stand up on the line then say skjei. With shatty i think it is his lack of effort. Playing 20 minutes tends to make you alittle more tired then say 14 minutes. And shatty just doesn’t have the legs yet to play 20.

  • Shots are not goals. Shots are not goals. Shots are not goals. Shots are not goals. Please stop showing pictures of these ridiculous heat maps. Yes, but hey, they give you another excuse to bash Staal.

    • Shots are statistical evidence of opponents’ attacking tendencies, and victory in sports usually comes from attacking its opponent’s weaknesses. So there’s plenty of value to a heat map—it’s strategic and illustrative of where a problem lies within a defensive scheme.

      And as a free tip: repeating your first sentence over & over again isn’t a good rhetorical device, it just looks like a tantrum. Your stuff is usually more reasoned than that.

      • I am sorry, but this is rubbish. NHL teams are good. You do not prevent them from taking shots. The idea is so ridiculous that no decent coach would ever attempt to prevent shots. The idea is to prevent shots that are going to go in. And players don’t just take shots because they can. They shoot because they have no better option at the time. It is better to offer a player a bad shot than a good pass.

        People zoom in on one variable and ignore everything else. A good defenseman allows five shots where he is harassing the shooter, cutting down the angle, and giving the goalie good vision. A bad defenseman gives up one clear shot and screens the goalie in the process. You cannot judge a defenseman by how many shots he gives up. Further, shots from the left can be caused by breakdowns on the right and vice versa.

        It’s possible that there is something to this. It may be that our left defensemen, who are on balance better than our right defensemen, are neglecting their posts too much to cover for their partners. But one needs the kind of analysis that Odielicious offers above that looks at actual goals and not some silly heat maps.

        People like these because they reinforce the notion that Staal and Smith are bad and Pionk, ADA, and Shatty are good — and treat the fact that it puts Skjei and McQuaid on the wrong side as a glitch.

        Cut Quinn a little slack here, people. Don’t fault him because of a meaningless heat chart. If he thinks Staal is good enough to play, but not a good guy to have on the ice with five minutes to go and the Rangers behind, just maybe he is thinking. And if Staal is not to blame for a lot of goals, maybe Quinn knows what he is doing.

        • Actually, Ray, one of the first things that any defenseman in organized hockey is taught is to try to prevent shots toward their own net. That’s why they block shots, because a team cannot score if they don’t shoot the puck. It’s a simple cause and effect relationship—less shots and less shot attempts equal less scoring chances.

          There is also an entire statistical category devoted to shot suppression in NHL analytics these days, perhaps you should familiarize yourself with its existence instead of relying on discredited and outdated stats like plus-minus.

          • Finally MC you say something good ! Other teams picking the left side are picking that side for a reason. Find a weakness and utilize it. Its only 3 games but for some reason that left side is being used a bit more …. we’ll see after 10 games if its still happening !

        • There isn’t an NHL defense out there that bleeds shots consistently while simultaneously keeping pucks out of the net at a high rate. There’s no defensive strategy out there that tells you to go ahead and let them shoot to their heart’s content. It’s just not a thing. I agree with you that there’s more to it than just how many and where the shots are coming from, but to say quantity/frequency and location don’t matter at all or can’t tell you anything is pretty extreme. These heat maps are not be-all and end-all, no. They are a piece of the puzzle, though. It’s the same principle as a QB in the NFL throwing more attempts to the side of the opposing secondary that is struggling in coverage more, because there is a better chance to make something happen than on the other side. NHL players are going to shoot from where they are getting the best looks, and right now, they’re getting the best looks from the left side of the Rangers defense.

      • Not necessarily disagreeing with you. Shot charts to show weakness and also opponents tendencies. Cause left handed centers are more likely to dish in which direction? I a defenses weakness certainly factors in but it is also just the make up of individual teams and 3 games is hardly enough statistics to show a true weakness. Lets see how it plays out of 20 games. If it shows up like this every single game then definitely there is a issue on the left. I find these high end stats are just manufactured to prove ones point that said player is bad. When a goal by goal analysis is available for anyone to watch and see where the holes really are. And what happens on those exact break downs.

  • Guys – we’re not that good! The defense is slow and the offense is young. We are a 70 point team. Relax and don’t take this year to heart. Every team we play has the best player on the ice. Every team we play has a defense pair better than ours. Our goal here is to learn and show progress. RELAX!

    • Ahh, finally, the voice of reason has come to be reasonable!

      I’d say that is reason to celebrate, and reason to enjoy the season for what it is: A learning experience for the entire Rangers organization. The players, the head coach and management are going to all be learing things this season. Learn to love it!

  • The burning question: Why McQuaid? Why oh why did they think they needed this guy? They are carrying too many defensemen and he is not very good despite his joy in hitting things.

    • McQuaid has been their best dman so far, both statistically and eye test wise. Quinn obviously loves the physicality but his play has been solid in every game. Time to have real analysis and not just reiterate preconceived opinions ad nauseum. He obviously fills a need on the right side and to protect the crease. And they can trade him at the deadline for at lot more than it cost to get him, as long as he stays healthy, so it’s likely a win all around.

      • McQuaid’s possession numbers are well behind Skjei and Shattenkirk. He’s been outscored by DeAngelo despite Tony D only playing 1 game vs McQuaid’s 3 games. McQ is a poor passer and stickhandler, and a below-average skater. His only positive contribution has come with some physicality. I don’t know how you can call this guy the Rangers’ best dman thru the first 3 games, I think he’s been horrible.

    • This question is easy to answer, though you may not like the answer. Before camp, when the trade was made, the Rangers were not comfortable with their right side. They were not convinced that Pionk and/or ADA belonged in the NHL. And, despite what people here believe they saw in the preseason games, I do not believe that ADA showed Quinn in camp that he belonged (else he would not have sat the first two games). Please remember that Quinn saw a lot more of ADA than just a few games.

      • Ok, I will give you that they were unsure about ADA or Pionk. However, McQuaid is a mediocre defenseman who is on the downside of his career. I doubt he will be playing hockey much longer. I am of course not a GM or a scout, so I don’t know what the market looked like, but I would have preferred them finding a younger, quicker RD or even keeping Steve Kampfer around to spending some picks on McQuaid. Make sense?

        • Oh, I would have preferred to keep Kampfer too – or risked putting Smith or Claesson on the right side. I did not like the trade either – just explaining why they did it.

  • Orland, I have noticed McQuaid getting beaten or being caught flatfooted a number of times, especially against the Canes. I feel that having him on board takes playing time away from younger players who have some upside. I just don’t see McQuaid adding much value overall. That is my “real analysis”.

  • Peter – McQuaid is far from a star and is not speedy for sure. Nevertheless he has been our best dman and one of our best players – his PDO (all the rage in stat head world) bears this out. So I suspect your “real analysis” is colored by your belief that he is not good and/or shouldn’t have been traded for. He seems very steady with the puck.

    Moreover – we only have 4 RHD with no one in the minors ready at all, so even barring injuries, which is extremely unlikely, all 4 should be able to play about 75% of the games which gives plenty of playing time to all. And if we can trade McQuaid at the TD for a 2nd rounder its undeniable that it was a brilliant move to trade him for a 4 and 7.

    • If anyone gives Gorton a 2nd for McQ at the deadline, that GM should be tarred and feathered. I hope it happens, sure, but I will not be holding my breath.

    • Say what?

      You must not understand PDO at all. His even strength PDO IS 105+, his 5×5 is 106+. Average is 100. Therefore PDO shows he’s being lucky and riding a high PDO and will come down.

      The Rangers are shooting 19% at evens and 21% at 5×5. That won’t continue and the cloak will come off.

  • It’s very simple, you have an anchor on each pair and the anchor’s partner is not good enough to maker up for it.

    So unless the forwards totally give up the idea of actually trying to score goals and go back to the Torts’ way of playing team D, this is what it’s going to be.

    So the reality of the situation is to go with all young D along with Shatty. Why try to force pairings together that will not be around 6 months from now? Because players will be traded or benched?

    The McQuaid trade was a complete cluster-f–k. Total waste of assets. Maybe a 4th by itself is no big deal but a 4th with a 2nd gets you a higher 2nd round pick. You don’t waste trading assets, period.

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