Archive for Defense
The Rangers are off to their best start in history, but yet there is that sneaking suspicion that all is not well in Rangerland. Both Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta have been forced to make highlight reel saves on a regular basis. Defensemen are getting burned to the outside, are getting caught out of position, and are hemorrhaging shots against at an alarming rate. When the SV% comes back down to Earth, and it will, the Rangers may find themselves losing games they should win.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a playoff team with elite goaltending and forward depth that is envied across the league. They are one of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference right now, up there with Montreal, Tampa Bay, and Washington. Any of those four can come out of the East. Wild cards like Pittsburgh and the Islanders also make things interesting.
Since the East is going to be a dog fight, the Rangers need to do everything possible to improve their performance on the ice and give themselves the best chance at winning that elusive Stanley Cup. That includes improving upon their bottom-third score-adjusted possession rate.
Over the weekend, Alain Vigneault spoke with Dan Boyle, and said that he would be getting more time off as a healthy scratch throughout the season. The reasoning is that the Rangers have a fairly condensed schedule, with 17 back-to-backs and about ten (I think) three-in-fours. While Boyle is better defensively than he receives credit, he is also 39 years old coming off a long season.
There’s also the factor of getting Dylan McIlrath playing time, which in the long-run is equally important. McIlrath has made tremendous strides in his game over the past year, and has gone from “bust” territory to serviceable defenseman. The Rangers invested a lot of time and effort into his development, and it appears to finally be paying dividends.
When Kevin Klein was confirmed to be starting alongside Keith Yandle at the end of the preseason, I theorized that the two could be a solid duo. Klein has a heavy shot, looks to shoot often, and does a fairly good job of putting himself in a position to shoot. Yandle, on the other hand, is one of the best passers in the game, and makes many subtle plays to draw attention before dishing for a chance.
We started seeing this last night, as Klein scored the Rangers second of the game off a feed from Yandle, GIF’d above. From this play, we see Klein enter the zone at the high slot, then drift to the left circle. As Klein moves to the left circle –while the play is on the far side of the ice– Yandle moves from the left point across the blue line to support the play on the right point. From here, Yandle draws two Hawks to him with a fake shot as Klein angles himself towards Yandle to accept a pass. Yandle sees this, and feeds it right in his wheel house. Klein buried it.
This is a guest post received from Pat Keogh, who reached out to me yesterday with this idea. It was something I touched on via Twitter, and Patrick does a great job summing it up. Be sure to follow him on Twitter here.
The Philadelphia Flyers placed defenseman Andrew MacDonald on waivers this week, sparking some discussion on Twitter due to the size of his contract and his reputation as a reliable, shot blocking, “stay at home” defenseman. Rangers fans in particular may have found amusement in a close rival making this kind of roster move, but also perhaps frustration, given the similarities between Andrew MacDonald and Rangers stalwart Dan Girardi. At the same time as Girardi detractors can seem overly critical, apologists for the defenseman often ephemeral qualities such as “grit” or “heart”. A closer look at the stats helps clarify the comparison, which may bear more similarities than some Rangers fans would like.
Below are graphs of Girardi and MacDonald’s respective WOWY (With Or Without You) CF% numbers, including CF% as well as zone start adjusted CF%. While many of MacDonald’s teammates demonstrate a larger share of the shot attempts taken on ice without MacDonald, the same could be said for a greater proportion of Girardi’s teammates. Here we see the comparison is actually less flattering for Dan Girardi than for Andrew MacDonald.
Much was made yesterday of Alain Vigneault’s decision to dress defenseman Kevin Klein back-to-back nights this week given the developing competition for the final spots on the blueline in training camp.
On the one hand, Klein only dressed Monday because Dan Boyle was a last minute scratch, so perhaps some are reading into it too much. However, there were many other players Vigneault could switched with Klein last night, but he still chose to play the 30-year-old veteran again.
Despite Klein’s struggles late last season, it was still widely assumed that the final spot on the bottom pairing was all his entering training camp, but there are a few other things to consider. Read More→
Update (5:20pm): To address the goaltending question, both Cam Talbot and Henrik Lundqvist were way above league average in adjusted goals saved above average (adjGSAA) which by definition compares goalies and, “as definitively as possible, regardless of circumstance, and in consideration of the tools we have and the variables we can actually account for, Goalie A is performing better than Goalie B.” Since these two goalies are above average, we can assume that they bail out their defense on high-danger shots on a regular basis.
Throughout this golden era of Rangers hockey, a period of time in which we have seen the most consistent success from the Rangers (still missing that one essential piece though), their vaunted defense has been the subject of much praise. That was until very recently, about the mid-point of two seasons ago, when the Rangers faced a critical decision with Dan Girardi. They re-signed their franchise defenseman, and then re-upped Marc Staal the following year. This locked up two core pieces for what could be the remainder of their careers.
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.