Archive for Defense
The final preview piece for the first round is one that is sure to decide the series, and that is the blue line. The Rangers have had issues with their defensive units all year long, but added Brendan Smith at the deadline. The Habs, who did not have such issues, added Nikita Nesterov and Jordie Benn at the deadline, moves which improved their depth.
The Habs are projected to have the following pairs for the playoffs:
Shea Weber-Andrei Markov
Alexei Emelin-Jeff Petry
Jordie Benn-Nathan Beaulieu
Per Larry Brooks, Dan Girardi is back in the lineup. He is practicing on the top pair with Ryan McDonagh. Marc Staal and Nick Holden are back together. Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith are the third pair. Adam Clendening and Steve Kampfer are the scratches.
This is what we expected from Alain Vigneault, as disappointing as it is. At this point it’s beyond the players, it’s on the coach. These are not the optimal pairs for a team that wants to succeed in the playoffs.
Who knows? Maybe this is just a one game thing before AV tinkers more. But I’m not optimistic. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
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 Rangers haven’t had a fully healthy defensive unit for some time now. Kevin Klein has been out with a nagging back injury, and Dan Girardi has been out with an ankle injury. We haven’t heard any news about them skating in practice yet, so it’s safe to say the Rangers are taking their time and not rushing either veteran back into the lineup.
With the new luxury of being able to rest some players without really impacting playoff seeding, Alain Vigneault has a rare opportunity to evaluate the current six-some on defense and see if and where Girardi/Klein can slide in when healthy. Emphasis here is on if.
It’s no secret that defense is the big problem area for the New York Rangers. Fans know it, pundits know it, and by the sound of things GM Jeff Gorton knows it. This defensive corps is simply not fit to contend for a Cup, and has held back an otherwise talented forward group as the team gets hemmed in its own end and struggles to complete successful breakouts.
Revamping this defense is Gorton’s number one priority as he heads into the trade deadline and the offseason, and as I hinted at in this week’s post about my dream acquisition, it’s something that’s been on my mind as well. I’ve given some thought to how the Rangers might go about fixing things, and hopefully they can do so without losing too much of their offensive mojo. How might they go about ameliorating the present situation you ask? Hold onto your butts.
With the Rangers on their bye week, which was perfectly timed with the halfway point of the season, we are afforded the opportunity to evaluate the Rangers with nothing else going on. Midseason report cards have been a bit of a tradition here at BSB, so let’s keep that tradition going, shall we?
Over the next few days, each of us will be tackling a different aspect of the team, and assigning grades accordingly. I’m batting leadoff here, and I’m going to be discussing the most polarizing aspect of this year’s team: The defense.
Overall, the back line for the Rangers has been relatively bad. The combination of age, injuries, wear and tear, and a shift towards speed has made what was once a strong defense into a bottom-five unit in the league. The slow start by Henrik Lundqvist exposed the defense even more. But it’s not all bad, either.
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.
You know it’s time to dust off your laptop and write a post for Blue Seat Blogs when there are jokes on the Internet about your location, your health, or doubts as to if you ever existed at all. Truth be told, I am not an alter ego for Dave Shapiro.
For new readers of Blue Seat Blogs, allow me to re-introduce myself, my name is HOV, H to the O V, The Suit. I like bourbon, matters related to bespoke tailoring, and hockey. I use a pseudonym for various reasons. I (sort of) invented blogging about Hockey Systems. Now Steve Valiquette has far surpassed me and did so with an air of Greenwich snobbery that even I can’t replicate (jk love you Vally).
Anyway, it’s been a while since I created internet, so I have decided to share a few views on things related specifically to our defense, because defense wins championships or something.
Yesterday, the New York Rangers waived Dylan McIlrath, with the intention of sending him down to the Wolf Pack. As you can imagine, this sent fans into a bit of an uproar. After all, Josh Jooris was just diagnosed with a separated shoulder and was destined to hit LTIR. This would have given the Rangers more roster flexibility with the imminent returns of Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider. The Rangers didn’t have to make a move.
As of this writing, there are still several hours left in the waiver period, so we are not yet sure if the team will lose McIlrath for nothing yet. There seems to be no consensus on the likelihood of a claim (I tend to think there is a good possibility of one). If McIlrath sneaks through to Hartford that will be some grade A depth in the minors in case of future injuries, and additional ice time can only help his continued development. If he is claimed, it will highlight some poor asset management on the part of the organization, especially since he did not have to be waived at the moment.
We’re a few games into the season at this point, and it’s plain to see what the Rangers’ strengths are as a team. Most of this stems from the team’s deep forward corps – the team is fast and has a scoring touch on each of their four lines. What’s also becoming increasingly clear however is the Rangers’ weakness: the defense. While this may seem like an obvious point to make, it’s important to go further and parse out exactly what the issues are in order to better understand how to address them.
Let’s start with what even the most stalwart apologists for the Rangers defense would acknowledge: aside from Ryan McDonagh, this is not a defensive group that moves the puck well. The forwards on the team mostly make up for them, as they’re all quite fast and each line has someone capable of making quick passes and carry-ins on it, but the start of the breakout needs work.