Archive for Defense
The New York Rangers defense has been called elite by some, and a disaster by others. The reality of the unit is that it is somewhere in the middle, much like how Suit graded them yesterday. The Rangers seem to be set on the left side. They have a legit top pairing defenseman in Ryan McDonagh, at least two solid top-four in Keith Yandle and Marc Staal, and then, well, it gets fuzzy on the right side.
Starting with Dan Girardi, who appears to be the most divisive topic among Ranger fans later, the Rangers have a player who thrived under John Tortorella’s zone collapse defensive zone style. But under Alain Vigneault, Girardi’s lack of foot speed, poor gap control, and poor positioning have many questioning if he can keep up in a strong side overload/man coverage system. I’ve already suggested that the Rangers consider dropping him from his top pairing role, to mixed reviews.
Dan Boyle was brought in to help the powerplay –at the expense of Anton Stralman, who I needed to mention at least once in this post due to the situation, but will forego mentioning him again– and was relatively unsuccessful. He made the opposition mindful of his presence, and he certainly gave them options, but the results simply were not there.
The Rangers will be mightily relieved that Ryan McDonagh didn’t sustain a shoulder injury in Monday’s game six victory as, after an inconsistent start to the playoffs, the Rangers captain has improved after each and every game. The proof is in the pudding and the pudding is Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals captain has been a factor of course, whether it through his physical play (as McDonagh himself can attest to) or the mere fact he’s constantly throwing pucks toward the net but his influence has been minimized in large part because of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi.
McDonagh has not only scored a huge, game winning goal in the series that kept the Rangers’ season alive (indeed, both of his goals this postseason have stood up as game winners) but McDonagh has been on the ice in almost every critical situation for the Rangers including the dying moments of game six when McDonagh was the one who eventually cleared the puck to ice the game. McDonagh wasn’t a factor early in the series but his influence has surely been felt as the series has progressed.
McDonagh leads all players in ice time in this series (averaging 24:22 minutes per game) and while he’s not been at his very best his form is certainly pointing in the right direction. At time of writing only four players remaining in the playoffs have averaged more ice time than McDonagh and three of those are on a Blackhawks team that have already played two multiple overtime games this spring.
After last night’s crushing defeat, the strategy for defending Alex Ovechkin came to the forefront (aside from the Backstrom hit). Well, it became more of a priority than before, since he dominated the game. Ovechkin had a goal and an assist, a +10 scoring chance differential, and double up on his USAT/FF and SAT/CF numbers. In short: He was an absolute force.
So the question arises: Do you shadow him? Do you stick someone on him at all time, and basically have someone Esa Tikkanen him? Adam Herman went through why he thinks it’s a good idea, at least on the powerplay. I see the merit in that point of view, but I staunchly disagree.
Shadowing doesn’t work at even strength
I was listening to the radio yesterday, and I couldn’t believe my ears. Hockey was being discussed, and it wasn’t Boomer and Carton or Michael Kay and Don La Greca. Once I got over my initial shock of hearing hockey on the radio discussed by a voice in which I could not identify, I started listening to the topic at hand.
The topic intrigued me: When Kevin Klein comes back, who should sit?
It got me thinking. Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, and Keith Yandle are not coming out of the lineup. All have been pretty solid in this series as well. So it’s really between Matt Hunwick and Dan Boyle.
If you want to explain to someone what Keith Yandle is all about, ask them to watch the Carl Hagelin breakaway goal from game three of the Rangers Pens playoff series, on Monday. Yandle’s pass to set up the goal was pin-point, crisp and defense splitting. Yandle’s pass was perfectly placed allowing Hagelin to race through on to Marc Andre Fleury and open the scoring. That’s what Yandle does and that’s what he has been doing increasingly as a Ranger, ever since Glen Sather made the bold trade to acquire the highly talented offensive defenseman.
Yandle has fit in well with the Rangers even if there was an initial adjustment period. Yandle started relatively slowly when he arrived in New York but that was to be expected. Coming from the hockey outpost that is Arizona and playing in a much different (and less speed orientated) system even the most talented players take time to adjust but adjust Yandle has.
In a season where the Rangers, from top to bottom, have done almost everything right the decision to insert Matt Hunwick straight into the line-up is the sign of a missed opportunity. When Henrik Lundqvist went down with an injury the team turned to Cam Talbot. Slowly but surely Talbot has turned himself into a legitimate NHL starter – at worst a high end backup – and moving forward, has developed into an asset for the franchise.
When Lundqvist eventually returns the embarrassment of riches in goal will be a huge advantage for the Rangers. On top of that the team has identified a young netminder in Mackenzie Skapski who may also have a future with the big club. In injury, opportunities lie or so they say.
While Talbot’s form was critical to the Rangers pursuing a high seed and playoff position, there is less pressure (to an extent) on Klein’s replacement in the line-up. Barring a collapse of the most epic of proportions the Rangers have a playoff spot sown up and barring a slightly less but still epic collapse they have a high seed in the bag too. The timing of Kevin Klein’s injury should represent an opportunity to test one of the younger Hartford blueliner’s.
With the All-Star Game coming up this weekend, we’ve been handing out our annual midseason grades. Dave tackled the goaltending and coaches, Chris wrote about the top-six forwards, and today I’ll be reviewing the defense.
Boyle’s season got off to a slow start after the 38-year-old D-man missed the first five weeks of the year with a broken wrist. But in my eyes, he was brought here to do one thing – fix the power play – and that’s been a resounding success. Does Boyle deserve all the credit? Definitely not. But he has made a major impact moving the puck quickly and decisively on the man advantage, and he’s been better in his own end than I expected. Boyle has been deployed in the offensive zone whenever possible, but he’s made that positioning count by helping the team direct rubber at the opposing net at a terrific rate.
The decision to let Anton Stralman go in favor of Boyle may haunt the Rangers for years, but for the short term, I’m pretty comfortable with the tradeoff.
Grade: A- Read More→
Around these parts, we spend a lot of time using #fancystats to supplement what we see on the ice from players. Generally speaking, we focus on puck possession metrics, using external factors like zone starts and quality of competition/teammates to pad the analysis. For all the merits that Corsi/Fenwick have, they don’t measure shot quality. Shot location isn’t something that is repeatable on offense(lots of analysis done to prove this), so there isn’t much space spent on examining further. It doesn’t correlate to wins.
However shot location can show us trends. We can use it at the team and individual levels to measure offensive styles –going to the net or keeping to the perimeter– and defensive effectiveness. On offense, you want to have more shots come from the better real estate (the slot, closer to the net). On defense, you want more shots from the perimeter. Hockey 101. War-on-ice, an indispensable resource, has given us a nice graph to show this as well.
Right now, John Moore hasn’t earned a new deal with the New York Rangers. However the young, underperforming yet talented blueliner’s future may be closely linked to that of Marc Staal. This season the Rangers are discovering what too much roster turnover in one offseason can cause. Part of the Rangers’ problems to begin the year has been a lack of chemistry up front as well as on the blueline. So would the Rangers be willing to let Staal and Moore go? As well as potentially having to fill the other spot on the third pairing?
Staal is looking for a minimum of 5.5m per year. He hasn’t earned that type of deal when focussing on his performances this season. Moore (according to the Post) is likely to receive 1.5m per year in arbitration. Given that number is almost double his current salary it’s hard to see the Rangers agreeing to that kind of deal. These kind of numbers only add to the uncertainty surrounding Moore. In short, both defensemen have huge question marks in front of their Ranger futures.
Currently a healthy scratch, Moore hasn’t really done much to warrant an extension but the tantalising talent is still there and plenty of defenseman don’t peak until their mid twenties. Should the Rangers wait for Moore to find the next level? Their decision could depend on Marc Staal’s future.
For the first time all season, the Rangers will dress a fully healthy squad. Captain Ryan McDonagh, injured since early this month with a separated shoulder, is set to return tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers. His return helps balance out the lineup on special teams as well as at even strength, but it goes far beyond the decision of who sits.
Matt Hunwick will be the odd-man out eventually (although John Moore is out tonight), which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. What should be a surprise is how effective Hunwick was while replacing insert injured Rangers defenseman name here. You certainly have your own way of finishing that last sentence, but Hunwick has been an unsung hero for the Rangers and their ability to tread water while dealing with injuries all year.
With Hunwick out, McDonagh will skate next to Dan Girardi, as per usual. His presence should probably help Girardi get his game back to a level that we’ve come to expect*. Marc Staal and Dan Boyle will remain the second pairing, and Kevin Klein will stay with John Moore. Those pairings sound familiar, don’t they? It’s like we haven’t seen them since June. Oh wait, we haven’t.
*-Leaving this open-ended for a reason.