Posts tagged: Ryan McDonagh

The last line of defense isn’t everything

You’d think a Rangers related blog would champion the last line of defense more than most. However the last line of defense – the goaltender – isn’t everything. Despite being a Hart and Vezina finalist, despite being the best goaltender on the planet this season, Henrik Lundqvist still needs a quality blueline in front of him to succeed, as does any successful goalie for that matter. It is this consideration however, why the Rangers should feel confident they can handle the surprisingly strong Devils in the conference finals.

Why you ask? Look at the Capitals. They had a former Norris candidate, blueline scoring machine  in Mike Green start to rediscover his form in the Rangers series. They had two future studs in Karl Alzner and John Carlson and a quality top four defenseman in Dennis Wideman. They had a deep defense, one of the few that on paper can match the Rangers unit. Then, behind that defense they had a solid netminder. While the Rangers never tested Braden Holtby enough, part of the reason they got so little rubber on net was what was because of what was in front of him.

Of course Braden Holtby is not Marty Brodeur. The Devil is a legend at his position who is enjoying an Indian summer. That said Marek Zidlicky, Andy Greene, Peter Harrold, Bryce Salvador and Mark Fayne hardly comprise an intimidating defense. Would Holtby have had the same level of success without the quality that was in front of him? With all due respect, probably not.

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Should the Rangers try and keep Stralman?

Undoubtedly one of the unexpected surprises for the Rangers in this post season has been Anton Stralman. Stralman had a solid regular season for the Rangers, especially given that he arrived after the pre-season. That said no one could have foreseen Stralman playing as well as he has in the playoffs thus far. It has been a massive bonus for the Rangers.

While we have discussed the likelihood of Stralman’s next contract being elsewhere before (due to probable contract demands), perhaps a point we haven’t touched upon enough is whether the Rangers should seek to retain Stralman after this season.

Stralman has ensured the poor play of Stu Bickel hasn’t been too costly this off season. He has provided offense and has been solid in his own end. It goes without saying that Stralman is an NHL player next season. With Dylan McIlrath and Tim Erixon progressing to the point they may be viable candidates next year (Erixon especially so) there may not be a point in bringing back Stralman. However, the Rangers possess one of the best defence’s in the league and Stralman is part of that deep group.

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The Staal Factor

While this season the Rangers top defensemen have undoubtedly been the Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh tandem, perhaps one of the most key aspects of a successful first round series against the Ottawa Senators may be the play (and subsequent impact) of Marc Staal.

Without doubt Staal is and has been a number one defenseman but as everyone knows, injury has meant his play has taken a while to get close to his own high standards. Indeed, he’s still not the Marc Staal of old however his play has been steadily improving of late and how Staal handles the quick and tricky Senators offense could have a huge bearing on the series.

Every Ranger fan know of the team’s 1-2-1 record in the four games against the Sens this year and will be acutely aware of how the team has struggled to score against them.  Amid the 14 goals credited to the Sens in the season series it perhaps went unnoticed that Girardi was a -3 in those four games while Ryan McDonagh was -1.

Both players were also held scoreless despite providing the Rangers with solid offensive seasons with 29 and 32 points respectively. Clearly neither player has produced their best performances against the Sens and therefore how guys like Mike Del Zotto, but especially Marc Staal, cope in the series will be essential. The Rangers don’t want the top pairing munching 30+ minutes a night if they have realistic designs of a deep run.

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Is Ryan McDonagh the Rangers best defenseman?

With Dan Girardi tiring in the last few games (not a criticism) and Marc Staal clearly still struggling for consistency following his return, has Ryan McDonagh emerged as the Rangers best defenseman?

It’s a valid question and perhaps just another way of heaping praise on McDonagh for the way he has developed since his call up midway in to last year. A lot of people don’t pay much attention to the plus/minus statistic but even the biggest critic of that stat has to acknowledge McDonagh’s impressive +39 over his first 112 NHL games. That’s more than just being on the ice at the right time.

McDonagh is still learning and he’s still making mistakes; he’s not perfect. The way James Neal picked his pocket in the Pens game a few games ago shows that he’s certainly not perfect but he has progressed at an incredible rate.

The offensive side of McDonagh’s game has developed the most, visibly. However that is because he has such a solid foundation defensively that it allows him to get involved more at the other end. His positional play is exceptional and he takes the body with regularity. Given the style McDonagh plays he doesn’t take a huge amount of penalties and he fits in Tortorella’s system perfectly.

McDonagh has become a minute muncher. He’s playing a shade under 25 a game and while unfortunate for Marc Staal, the absence of Staal has been a blessing in disguise for McDonagh’s development. Nobody could have foreseen this rate of progress and it probably wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for a Staal brother collision last season.

It’s hard not to be excited about the Rangers future given how the club is being built the ‘right way’ (from the goal out). There’s an embarrassment of riches developing in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Staal, Girardi, McDonagh and Del Zotto highlight a corps that still has Mike Sauer as well as Tim Erixon and Dylan McIlrath in the wings. There’s not another club in the entire league (outside of Nashville) that can boast that kind of pipeline on the blue line. And we said all this without finding a way to thank Bob Gainey again. Oops.

So, is McD the Rangers best defenseman right now? It’s hard to argue against him. When healthy, a valid case can be made for Del Zotto with the way his game has developed this year but either way the Rangers are sitting pretty with a 21 and 22 year old leading the charge to the post season.

Rangers/Hurricanes recap

The Rangers grinded out a gutsy win in Carolina tonight, beating the ‘Canes 3-2 behind a fantastic defensive effort and a very solid game by Marty Biron.  Marian Gaborik scored to net his 30th of the year, and his 7th 30 goal season overall.  Seems like the theme lately has been a period by period recap, so I’ll give it a try (let me know which format you guys prefer in the comments).  To the bullets…

  • 1st Period
  • During the first period the Rangers had a solid forecheck going and were doing a nice job getting penetration into the offensive zone.  The problem was they weren’t developing quality chances from that penetration.  They were moving the puck well enough to evade pressure from the Hurricanes, but not well enough to put quality shots on Cam Ward.
  • Defensively the Blueshirts did a fantastic job of getting sticks into passing lanes and forcing Carolina’s wingers to the outside on the rush.  Ryan McDonagh was especially impressive early on. 
  • With :50 seconds remaining in the first, Brandon Dubinsky took what I will assume was a stupid penalty (I didn’t seem like any MSG camera actually caught Dubinsky throw Jiri Tlusty’s stick), which drew the ire of coach John Tortorella.  Dubinsky wouldn’t see the ice the rest of the game.
  • 2nd period
  • What do you know?  That penalty came back to the bite the Rangers as Jeff Skinner snuck a shot through Marty Biron’s arm on a point blank slap shot.  As a goalie, those goals are absolutely infuriating.  1-0 Carolina.
  • As Dubinsky continued to sit, the recipient of his minutes seemed to be John Mitchell.  Mitchell played about 15 minutes and played a solid game.  He seemed to have a nice chemistry with Richards/Hagelin as well.
  • The Ranger’s continued to play excellent defense through the second period.  Michael Del Zotto exited the game early with an apparent hip injury, which pressed Marc Staal into bigger minutes as the game went on. 
  • The Rangers would tie the game on a hard wrist shot from Artem Anismov off a nice little back pass from Marian Gaborik.  The play wouldn’t have happened however, without some tremendous work by Derek Stepan in the neutral zone after blocking a shot. The shot seemed to handcuff Cam Ward a little bit, as he threw the puck in frustration after the puck bounced out. 1-1.
  • I caught myself wondering at one point in the second…why would Carolina want to stir anything up with the Rupp/Scott combination? 
  • Gaborik would put the Rangers ahead later in the second when he banged in the rebound of a Derek Stepan shot.  Gabby made a strong play in the slot to create a good chance and then didn’t give up on the play and was able to guide the rebound home.  Very strong play for the Rangers leading goal scorer as he pocketed his 30th of the season. 2-1 Rangers.
  • 3rd period
  • The Rangers caught a break at the start of the third period when the puck ricocheted off the lines man and right onto the stick of Brian Boyle, who would make a beauty of a pass to Brandon Prust to give the Rangers some insurance.  3-1 Rangers.
  • Jeff Skinner is absolutely filthy.  Crazy how two of Carolina’s best players can’t legally drink yet. (Skinner and Falk)
  •  The last 10 or so minutes of the game, the Rangers killed 6 minutes worth of penalties.  The bulk of which was assessed when John Mitchell accidentally clipped Jay Harrison with his stick.  Blood was drawn, 4 minutes. 
  • The ensuing penalty kill was magnificent.  Prust and Boyle were at their very best, while Staal continued to round into form with a strong effort on the PK.  Also, Dan Girardi is a warrior.
  • The ‘Canes drew within one goal with :39 seconds remaining after some slightly blown coverage from the aforementioned Girardi and Staal (not nearly enough impact to mar the fantastic game both played).  Jay Harrison was there to tap it in on the doorstep.  3-2 Rangers.
  • New York was able to hold on in regulation to win their 8th game in their last 11.

Obligatory Goaltending Notes

  • I thought both goaltenders played terrific tonight.  Neither one had a ton of work, but both made great saves at various points of the game.
  • Cam Ward isn’t a flashy goalie, but despite the 3 goals, he continues to show why he is one of the game’s best despite a suspect blue line.
  • Marty Biron had a nice bounce back game after a couple bumps in the road in the form of Chicago and the Islanders.  He had a slight case of rebounditis in the first third of the game or so, but his confidence clearly grew as the game went on and ended up making several key saves.
Random Thoughts
  • Torts might as well have put a dunce hat on the Dubi and made him sit facing the corner for the rest of the game.  Torts was visibly irritated about that penalty in his presser.
  • Brandon Prust was the 1st star of this game for me.  Absolute monster out there.
  • I’m going to say this with the assumption that DZ’s injury is nothing serious; I think it’s time to bump Staal up to the second pair.  The coaching staff has done a tremendous job bringing him back slowly this year, but I think the training wheels are ready to come off.  He played over 20 minutes tonight, and I don’t think any of us would be against demoting Anton Stralman to the third pair with Stu Bickel.  Not that Stralman hasn’t played well, but clearly Staal is the better player.
  • I’m not sure how many of you had the privilege of watching the MSG post game, but if you did you were able to behold that shirt that Ron Duguay was wearing.  Just terrific Ron, terrific.

Right back at it tomorrow night in Tampa at 7pm, as the Rangers try to run their winning streak to 4 in a row.  Don’t forget to be here tomorrow at noon for the BSB Live Chat!

The Latest on Rick Nash

12:47pm: Via Mark Spector, talks between the Rangers and Blue Jackets regarding Rick Nash have “advanced.” The reported package includes one of Ryan McDonagh or Michael Del Zotto, a prospect (apparently Tim Erixon), and a first round pick. The Rangers believe this offer gives them the edge over the Maple Leafs, and I would sure hope it would. That’s a serious haul.

As Dave said on Twitter, any deal bringing Nash to New York would have to involve Brandon Dubinsky going elsewhere for salary purposes. Columbus apparently doesn’t want him, which complicated things. It’s worth noting that Wojtek Wolski was not placed on waivers today according to Bob McKenzie, so his rather pricey salary will still count against the cap on Monday, trade deadline day.

I’m of the belief that the Rangers should look for an upgrade over the Stu Bickel/Steve Eminger/Jeff Woywitka trio, not subtract potentially two defensemen. We’ve seen the d-men get beat with speed quite a bit lately, and I don’t think that’s an accident. Dan Girardi, McDonagh, and MDZ have logged a ton of ice time this season, so adding another guy to soak up some minutes down the stretch makes sense. Anyway, I’ll update this post with any Nash-related rumors throughout the day.

Update (2:24pm): Per David Pagnotta, the Blue Jackets badly want Derek Stepan but will settle for Carl Hagelin. He mentions a package of Dubinsky, Stepan/Hagelin, Chris Kreider, plus a pick (not necessarily a first rounder), though it’s unclear if that’s on the table or if he’s speculating. Meanwhile, Larry Brooks hears that there’s nothing to the MDZ talk, but Erixon is in play. After the Wolski trade, the Rangers can add close to $11 million in cap hits at the deadline according to CapGeek. The money’s there if they want to do something big, or even two something bigs.

Rangers in unique spot with five top-four defensemen

Defensive depth in the NHL is tough to come by. In the offseason, the best defensemen get the mega millions. At the trade deadline, defensemen always cost the most. In the new skilled NHL, getting just two defensemen who are capable of playing top-four minutes regularly is tough. The Rangers have five such players. Of those five, three are already capable of playing top-two minutes. This folks, is depth at its finest.

Perhaps the Marc Staal concussion was a blessing in disguise. With the injury, Ryan McDonagh was forced into top-two duties, and Michael Del Zotto was forced into top-four duties. Not only have both excelled in the short term, they have proven themselves worthy of staying in those roles. The evidence is in the defense pairings, with Staal playing on the third pairing since his return.

Such depth allows the coaching staff to be creative in how to deploy the pairings, and how to fill out that last defensive spot. The top-five in Staal, McDonagh, Del Zotto, Dan Girardi, and Mike Sauer (although injured) are capable of playing in all three zones. Should the Rangers look to add a powerplay specialist like Marc-Andre Bergeron (just spit-balling here, not advocating for his acquisition), then the burden would fall on the other five to compensate for Bergeron’s lack of actual defense.

The Bergeron case is just a hypothetical, but it does illustrate a point that the Rangers have tremendous flexibility when it comes to filling the hole of sixth defenseman. Right now the Rangers have survived with a rotating door of Steve Eminger, Stu Bickel, and Jeff Woywitka, not exactly much to look at, but at least they have been serviceable.

Traditionally, teams are built from the net out. This means that proper teams are built starting with a goaltender, then the defense, and finally with depth down the middle at center. The Rangers have built themselves a solid club with their defensive depth, and may just be a perennial Cup contender for years to come.

Rangers/Bruins recap

Another day, another Rangers win.  The team didn’t put forth their best effort for the last 40 minutes, but they found a way to win.  The story of the game however, was the absolute brilliance of Henrik Lundqvist and his league-leading 7th shutout.  To the bullets…

  • This game belonged to Lundqvist.  I will elaborate more later in the recap, but not bulleting him first would have been a travesty.
  • Ryan Callahan is just scorching hot right now.  6 goals in his last 4 games and another power play goal.  For those keeping score at home that’s 38.5% over the past 4 games, with greatly improved puck movement.
  • This game was remarkably clean considering the physicality and the personalities at play.  A couple of off-setting minors and a few scuffles, but mostly just hard nosed hockey.
  • The Blueshirts started off a little slow but really came on in the second half of the first period.  The forecheck was relentless and forced turnovers using the newly implemented system that The Suit so conveniently broke down just this afternoon.
  • The Rangers were the beneficiaries of a fortunate bounce off Chara (own-goal anyone?) at the end of the second period.  From then on out, the Rangers played well defensively, but rested a little too much on Hank’s brilliance and seemed to do a little too much clock watching.  20 shots on goal isn’t going to cut it in the playoffs.
  • I thought Brandon Dubinsky played very well tonight.  1 assist and a +1, plus ten stitches and some chipped teeth highlighted a very blue collar effort.  He really needs to start being more decisive when handling the puck though.  He had several opportunities to pull the trigger and preferred the pass.  We all know what Dubi is capable of when he shoots with confidence.
  • On defense, Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal had particularly strong games.  Del Zotto had yet another assist (4 in the past 4 games), and Girardi continued his steady play.
  • Carl Hagelin’s speed continues to be an asset.  He was strong on the forecheck and negated a couple icing calls.  He threw the body around and was a general nuisance to the Bruins all game long.
  • Artem Anisimov is quietly playing some of his best hockey this season after being reunited with Gaborik (another assist, who knew he had the playmaker gene?) and Stepan.  Arty has 6 points in his last 6 games, and has made his presence known.
  • Now with all that out of the way, we can move on to the goaltending.  Now, I don’t make it a secret that I am not much of a Tim Thomas fan, but he played fairly well tonight.  Obviously, Cally’s PP goal was one that you can’t really hold the goalie responsible for, but it was a mini-illustration of the problem I have with Thomas’ style.  He works incredibly well within Boston’s defensive system, but his aggressive style takes him out of plays after the first shot, and forces his defense to compensate for him.  If you watch the replay, although the goal was in no way his fault, all his effort went directly to Del Zotto and gave himself absolutely no chance to stop the shot on the lateral pass.
  • Thomas griping aside, the real story in this game was The King.  He was absolutely out of this world tonight.  He was in solid position on the first shot and was balanced and poised for the rebounds.  He bailed out tired defenders countless times when Boston was mounting extended shifts of pressure.  If he continues to play at even 85% of the level he is at right now, he is a lock for the Hart Trophy.  Hank deserved his league-leading shutout, with 42 saves and continues to sport the best save percentage in the league and is second in GAA only to Brian Elliot, who has played in 15 less games.

With this win, the Rangers are now 9 points up on the 2nd place Bruins.  Mike Keenan made the bold prediction that no one is going to catch this team now.  You guys agree? Off tomorrow and then the Blackhawks come to town on Thursday at 7pm.

Fedotenko makes trip to Boston; McDonagh fine

Per Andrew Gross, Ruslan Fedotenko made the trip to Boston with the team. Considering the Rangers are home on Thursday, it is unlikely that Fedotenko would make the trip without the expectation that he would play. If Fedotenko does play, expect one of Steve Eminger or Stu Bickel to be the healthy scratch tomorrow night against Boston.

In other news, it appears that Ryan McDonagh is just fine. He went down with an apparent ankle injury, as you can see why from the video. It looks like he just rolled it. He’s expected to play as well.

Rangers/Flyers Recap

After a couple of days off, the Rangers took to the ice at the Garden for a pre-Superbowl matinee and threw the Flyers a well deserved 5-2 beating.  This was a tremendous game with a ton of talking points for analysis, but I’ll try to be brief.  Onto the bullets…

  • Overall, the Rangers played an incredibly solid game today.  They minimized mistakes, took advantage of some soft goals by Ilya Bryzgalov and played a hard-nosed, physical game.
  • The offense was once again lead by Marian Gaborik.  He finished with a goal and an assist, a +3 and 8 shots on goal.  He was flying from the opening face-off and being reunited with Derek Stepan (2a, +3) and Artem Anisimov (1g, 2a, +3) yielded significant results.
  • Speaking of Anisimov, that tip was an absolute beauty off Girardi’s point shot.
  • Michael Del Zotto (Zaster?) continues to get stronger as the season progresses.  He is seeing open ice and making strong decisions when to join the rush.  His hockey sense has gone through the roof this season and it’s showing on both sides of the puck.
  • The Rangers got some timely secondary scoring with Fedotenko, Dubinsky and Del Zotto chipping in goals.  Hopefully Dubinsky’s game will continue to improve and take some of the pressure off Glen Sather to make a move for a top-6 forward at the deadline.
  • The PP continued to be ineffective, but there were plenty of signs of improvement in this game.  They began to force the puck toward the net from the points, which took some of the pressure off the wingers down low.  There were several lateral chances between the forwards as it forced the Flyer’s PK unit to operate a little higher in the D-zone.  10 PP shots on goal is a step in the right direction.
  • On the other side of the coin, six penalties is way too many to take even in a physical game like this one.  While Stu Bickel had a solid overall game, the interference and boarding penalties are going to keep Tort’s from trusting him with more ice time.  It was great to see him standing up and taking some of the fighting responsibilities off Prust and Rupp.
  • I continue to be impressed every game by Ryan McDonagh.  He is such a heady player and makes defending the top lines from every team look routine.  Once Staal rounds back into form (he looked much better again today) the Rangers will have an embarrassment of riches in the top-4.  Although they still lack the big bomb from the point, you have a puck mover (DZ) and three shut-down defenders who can chip in on offense more than occasionally.
  • I don’t know who has less business being on an NHL roster, Sestito or Rinaldo…
  • Another pedestrian performance by Brad Richards today.  He needs to step it up, and quickly.
  • The Rangers blocked an absurd amount of shots again today.  They had 25 blocks to the Flyer’s 10.
  • What else is left to say about Henrik Lundqvist’s play?  He only had 21 saves (mostly because of the 25 blocks), but man does that guy come up big when the team needs it the most.  Looks like he learned his lesson on Giroux (same move as the Winter Classic goal) with only a few minutes left.
  • Ilya Bryzgalov did not fair so well this afternoon.  His game was pretty much a microcosm of his entire season.  He had some tremendous saves, but was done in by three soft goals.  His save % in this game was .892, for the season, .899.
  • This team continues to find a way to win all types of games.  These intense, physical tilts are the best way to prepare for playoff hockey, and this team is making it clear they are going to be extremely difficult matchup to draw come April.

Off tomorrow and another big division game against the Devils on Tuesday at the Garden.

Everyone be safe tonight and enjoy the other big game!