Archive for Dan Girardi
Like most teams the Rangers go as their best players go. Right now, only Henrik Lundqvist can say he’s his usual elite self and keep a straight face. Rick Nash, Derick Brassard as well as the entire blueline are not contributing as expected. Right now it’s the blueline that is causing most concern. Other forwards and the Rangers’ general depth are covering for Nash, for Kreider and for Brassard (take a bow Oscar Lindberg) but the defensive unit – as a collective – are making a series of errors each and every game.
The entire blueline has been a relative tire fire. It’s been hockey punctuated by individual mistake after individual mistake, by poor coverage and unacceptable defensive zone exits. The Rangers blueline has also been a turnover machine throughout October. Through all of that negative narrative (say that drunk) and no one, perhaps not even Dan Girardi, has begun the new season in as disappointing fashion as Ryan McDonagh.
Dan Girardi is probably the most interesting Ranger on the roster. He is the subject of a very vocal amount of criticism that is only equaled by the vocal amount of praise. It’s an age-old battle of “watch the game nerd” versus “#fancystats.” Here’s the dirty little secret of the eye-test and #fancystats: If you’re only using one, you’re doing it wrong. We’ve all seen what the numbers say on Girardi, it’s been discussed ad nauseam around these parts. Suffice it to say, they are not favorable.
The disconnect is tying those numbers his play in the defensive zone. And in the defensive zone, system matters. There is a major difference between John Tortorella’s low-zone collapse and Alain Vigneault’s overload/man coverage hybrid (shift to man coverage when the puck is below the goal line). In a low-zone collapse the goal is to defend the high risk areas and block shots. This requires that all players be proficient at blocking shots –which is a skill, no doubt– and understanding when to block the shot and when to let your goalie make the save.
In an overload, the goal is to outnumber the opposition on the wall and create pressure on the puck carrier. When the puck is below the goal line, players switch from an overload to man coverage. Everyone is always moving, and the scheme is a difficult transition from a collapsing team. Those 9-2 and 6-0 losses on the west coast two seasons ago are constant reminders. This kind of system is incredibly reliant on quick skaters and gap control.
Isn’t everyone in a much better mood now that hockey is back? It doesn’t hurt that the Rangers won their opener against the defending champs and rained on their obnoxious banner-raising ceremony. Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for the Blackhawks organization, but my god, that was a little much. The Blueshirts are back at it tonight against Columbus, so I figured I would share some thoughts on game day…
In the interest of keeping this in some semblance of order, I’m going to try and compartmentalize these bullets into ‘Hawks thoughts and then Blue Jackets thoughts.
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.
Per the official Rangers Twitter, defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi and forward Mats Zuccarello will be held out of training camp activities for the first week. All three had offseason procedures (Staal – ankle, Girardi – bursa, Zucc – brain/skull), so it’s not surprising they will be held out. I’d expect they rejoin after the first round of cuts, which is usually comprised of the kids getting sent back to juniors.
Alain Vigneault has said all three will be ready for the start of the season.
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.
I find the NHL Draft to be such an interesting concept. Not only do front offices have to be ready to deal with reacting to their punch list of player rankings and how to best utilize those picks, they also must engage in rapid-fire trade discussions and last minute pick movement. Fascinating. The Rangers are in an unusual position (for them, at least) at the Draft this season, having no high picks and several valuable assets. There are numerous ways the next two days can play out, so naturally, I have some thoughts.
- Might as well start with Cam Talbot. Over the last few weeks, we have gotten a little better idea about where his market stands in the context of a potential bidding war between Buffalo, San Jose, Edmonton and potentially teams like Dallas or Florida. The claim is that Sather turned down two second round picks. I trust the big guy’s trading prowess, and that’s a solid return to turn your nose up at in a very deep draft.
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.
Some quick notes that broke over the weekend:
- Marc Staal had surgery to remove a bone chip in his ankle last week, he is expected back for opening night.
- Dan Girardi also had surgery for a bursa excision. He is also expected back for opening night.
- The Arizona Coyotes had their sights set on goalie coach Benoit Allaire, but Allaire turned them down, preferring to stay with New York as part of a long-term approach. Allaire has worked with Henrik Lundqvist and Cam Talbot to great success, and will be working with Mackenzie Skapski as well.
- Jeff Gorton appears to be the heir apparent to Glen Sather, if he steps down. The Rangers denied the Maple Leafs and Bruins interviews with the Assistant GM.
- Ryan McDonagh had a fractured foot, suffered in Game 4.
- Dan Girardi sprained his right MCL in Game 4.
- Mats Zuccarello had a brain contusion (yeesh), full recovery expected. He was unable to talk for 3 days and needed speech therapy.
- Marc Staal had a hairline fracture in his ankle, suffered in the regular season.
While injuries are not an excuse, these injuries certainly played a role in the Rangers’ defensive performance in the latter half of the series.