Archive for Defense
It’s amazing the difference one dominant performance can make. Prior to the Pens game I was ready to criticise Marc Staal pretty heavily, and all of a sudden he turns out his best performance of the year. However, the point of this post remains. For now.
This year, on a consistent basis, the Rangers have been poor in their own end. Games where the Rangers have been acceptable defensively (such as the Pens game, where the team played well – for the most part – in front of Henrik Lundqvist) have been the exception rather than the rule. Some of this can certainly be attributed to the defensive unit being blown up by injury and suspension but there have been two constants in the line-up in Marc Staal and Girardi.
While Girardi has been inconsistent he has rebounded to some extent. Marc Staal however has been playing at an unacceptable level given his salary expectations and the standards we have come to expect. Make no mistake, Staal has had a few good games this season and really was more like his usual self against the Pens, and he remains a player with tremendous skill and size, but the Rangers need Staal to be much better consistently (key word).
When the Rangers blue line finally gets healthy, the assumption has always been that John Moore will be the LD on the third pairing. It’s tough to argue with that, as the one prospect who appears NHL ready is currently playing at the University of Minnesota (Brady Skjei). Conor Allen, in preseason, was seemingly beat out by Dylan McIlrath as the 7D (both were sent to the AHL for Matt Hunwick, since the kids need playing time). Moore’s spot appeared to be safe.
Allen, recalled due to the Moore suspension and the injury to Ryan McDonagh, looked steady in his two games this year. He’s not flashy by any stretch, but he reminds me of a right-handed Anton Stralman. If you recall, Stralman didn’t show up on the scoreboard, but he always made the smart, short, easy pass to move the puck out of the zone. It’s something that is greatly under appreciated because it is such a subtle play. Allen showed a lot of those qualities when I watched him.
Naturally I’m a bit of a nerd, so I took to the numbers to see if what I saw matches what was produced on the ice.
Good news folks, Derek Stepan is almost ready to return for injury. Figured I may as well lead with that.
The six defensemen that started for the Rangers on opening night: Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Dan Boyle, Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Klein, John Moore. Only the first two will dress tonight, and may be the only two that dress for the next four games. No matter what side of the fence you fall on regarding Girardi/Anton Stralman, or Staal, or Klein, or Moore, you recognize that this is a significant problem.
Boyle went down first with a broken hand two periods into the season. Then Moore was suspended for five games. Then over the weekend the club lost McDonagh for 4-6 weeks with a separated shoulder and Klein for at least one game with a foot contusion. Saying that this situation isn’t ideal is a drastic understatement.
John Moore is almost guaranteed a suspension. An in-person hearing with the Department of Player Safety doesn’t guarantee a suspension, but it gives them the option of suspending a player more than five games. Since Moore is a repeat offender, receiving two games for a hit on Dale Weise in last year’s playoffs, it’s a guarantee he misses at least three games, likely five or more.
At the moment, Matt Hunwick is playing somewhat steady filling in for the injured Dan Boyle. Mike Kostka played one game, had a few epic turnovers, but one game isn’t indicative of an entire career. Conor Allen is in Hartford, and he’s the guy most fans think is ready for a shot. Dylan McIlrath was the last one cut from camp, and the first round pick has shown significant progress and promise.
So what can the Rangers do?
Through the first seven games of the season, the Rangers have tread water with a 4-3 record. Considering the injuries to Derek Stepan and Dan Boyle, that’s what most had hoped for. These are two significant injuries that compound the issue of significant roster turnover from last year. Those that have been with the club for a while need to be the anchors that hold the ship steady, and right now, the top three of Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, and Marc Staal have been underwhelming.
The three of them combined have just five assists for the season. Defensive scoring is critical for successful teams, and while I don’t expect this to be an on-going problem throughout the year, it has been a problem nonetheless. While offense is an issue, the more alarming issue is the defensive meltdowns that led to three straight losses where the team allowed 17 goals. Evan Sporer at Blueshirt Banter wrote a good piece about shot quality, and how the Rangers defense was allowing quality shots. I’m not going to re-hash it here, but you should check it out, it’s a brilliant post.
This past offseason, the Rangers let Anton Stralman walk via free agency and a five-year, $4.5 million deal in Tampa Bay. They replaced him with Dan Boyle on a shorter term deal, two years at $4.5 million. While the move was hotly contested by many, and created a divide for the pro-Stralman and anti-Stralman debate, the fact is that Boyle was still a serviceable replacement, and someone who would certainly help the team on the powerplay.
But then, 40 minutes into the season, Boyle broke his hand. Mike Kostka and Matt Hunwick have been called upon to replace him in the lineup, paired with either Marc Staal or John Moore. For the first month of the season, the Rangers are replacing Stralman with the Kostka/Hunwick combination, and no matter which way you slice it, that was never part of the plan.
John Moore was the last regular from the 2013-14 varsity to sign a new deal for the upcoming season. That he wasn’t a priority speaks of the Rangers cap crunch but also of Moore’s uncertain future as well as his underwhelming performance as a Ranger. Although Moore has played well at times for the Rangers, it is hard not to expect more when you analyse his talent, size, pedigree and the need the Rangers have for another defenseman to step up offensively.
Had John Moore developed as hoped there’s every chance the Rangers wouldn’t have pursued Dan Boyle and would have had a sizeable chunk of cap cash to pursue a big name center this past summer but Moore didn’t develop into the two way defenseman both the Blue Jackets and the Rangers hoped for and Dan Boyle is indeed a New York Ranger. Meanwhile the Rangers have a merry-go-round at center in Derek Stepan’s absence.
Black and Blueshirts like Brian Boyle and Ryan Callahan are gone and in their place are players with much more skill, like Dan Boyle and Martin St. Louis. Vigneault arrived with a reputation for being a proponent of analytics and a master of matchups, but his actual top priority since arriving in Manhattan has been far simpler: get the team to score more goals.
With training camp in full swing, we had a bit of a preview into how Alain Vignault will deploy his defense pairings. Group A had Dan Boyle and Marc Staal together, essentially Boyle subbing in for the now departed Anton Stralman. John Moore was also in Group A. Group B had Dan Girardi paired with Ryan McDonagh, as per usual, and also had Kevin Klein. Both groups had kids vying for an NHL roster spot.
Leaving the kids out of this for a moment, as it is unlikely one of the kids will break camp with the big club unless there is an injury, all signs point to AV keeping McDonagh-Girardi as his top pair and Moore-Klein as his third pair. That of course leaves Staal and Boyle as the second pair. It’s what makes logical sense given the departure of Stralman, and keeps the lineup relatively balanced.
But some, including myself, have wondered how McDonagh would fair without Girardi. It’s no secret that Girardi draws mixed reviews among fans. His playoff performance against the Kings was woeful, as his footspeed was exploited on numerous occasions. But, he’s the longest tenured Ranger, rarely misses a game, and has that “warrior” factor in the sense that he’s probably made of robot parts. The fact that he’s never had a serious injury with the number of blocked shots is astounding.
As the lone RFA from the Rangers that is not arbitration eligible, the John Moore contract renewal falls at the bottom of the to-do list for the Rangers. Moore’s contract will become more of a focus after Chris Kreider, Derick Brassard, and Mats Zuccarello all sign, but that doesn’t mean Moore is forgotten about. If you remember Glen Sather’s history, he waits until August to get his non-arbitration RFAs under contract.
As for Moore, he’s coming off his ELC that paid him $810,000 in salary, with an additional $125,000 available in performance bonuses. The 23-year-old defenseman played the majority of his time on the third pairing, splitting his time with Michael Del Zotto and Kevin Klein. Moore played his weak side before the Del Zotto/Klein swap, moving to his strong side once the right-handed Klein came on board. Moore also put up career highs in goals (4), assists (11), and points (15) this season while averaging between 11-13 minutes per game.