Defense

The need for the top-three to be better

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.

Elaborating on the defensive breakdowns a bit more, we’ve seen games where Girardi has been too high on coverages and Staal too easy to shake off (both against the Devils). Where poor offensive zone work led to two-on-ones (against the Islanders), where Girardi found himself in no-man’s land and a McDonagh turnover led to a blown coverage and a goal (against the Leafs). These mistakes have calmed themselves of late, and no team is impervious to defensive breakdowns, but these were coming in high risk areas that led to goals. Evan’s analysis is spot-on.

Sure, the Boyle injury hurts, and Staal isn’t exactly getting stellar help from the Kevin Klein/Matt Hunwick combination (although Hunwick has been significantly better than Klein). Boyle’s presence should help Staal a bit in the long run. However, the McDonagh/Girardi combo needs to keep things simple and make the smart, short passes out of the zone. It helps limit turnovers and, in return, limit blown coverages.

The #fancystats say that McDonagh’s numbers will turn around shortly, he’s the relative Fenwick leader among these three (Girardi at the bottom, which isn’t unexpected at this point). He’s doing this against top competition too. Girardi and Staal are pretty significant question-marks, as the #fancystats hate Girardi –for good reason– and aren’t favorable to Staal (due to Anton Stralmnan’s presence, which was a huge positive, and may have skewed his numbers).

Regardless of how you feel about the top-three, the facts remain that they need to be better in their own zone. As Evan pointed out, some it if is on the forwards, and a goal is usually a team breakdown, not a single person fail. Overall team defense has been an issue, but that issue is alleviated when the top-three get their heads on straight as the season progresses.

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  • There is no doubt about that…these 3 have to get going…they have not been physical and I am getting tired of watching them stick check in front of the net.
    Problem with stick checking is if you get beat you are immediately out of position and susceptible to being beat badly. Too much traffic in the crease since the start of the season. That never bodes well.

  • This team has started slow, and it was a complete team melt down when they were losing. However, there should have been a much better performance from the top pairing. I believe that Mc Truck is going to be fine real soon, but I also believe that Danny boy is slowing down some, which will hamper his game long term. If everyone recalls, Dan had a tough PO last year, and the Habs took advantage of his lack of speed. As for Staal, the contract negotiations are a distraction, and they should be resolved quickly, or get a deal going if he doesn’t want to be here!!

    • If things were different in Carolina. Marc might want to go there regardless. I do think he likes it here but I’m sure he’s expecting the kind of money Girardi got. That’ll be a big road block in talks because the Rangers can’t afford a 3rd top pairing defenseman on the roster. Since Boyle is only signed for this year and next, I personally think the deal Brassard got should suit Staal give or take a couple hundred K.
      I think the Boyle injury sent the blue liners in a state of panic. They weren’t that bad the first game against STL. Not great but not like the 3 straight disasters. Which was also a lot of forward coverage failures. JT Miller is a headless chicken at Center or on the wing. The last game he played before sitting was on the wing. Still out of position a lot and he also had some bad luck. Some pucks went off his skate as he was trying his hardest to stay with a Dman driving to the net. He should get primary PK mins in Hartford to learn the basics and intricacies of Dzone positioning.
      The top 3 guys will be fine. Mac is Mac and Girardi is a cyborg. As he gets older he has to be more conservitive in the offensive zone. Not get caught because at his side of 30. These young kids can go right around him and he’s not the best at the pivot when chasing a forward driving the net. This is what MTL & later LA exploited. Staal is playing for a contract. He’ll work at it and be better.
      Like Walt said tho as a group they need to be more assertive at the defensive Blueline. Too many forwards are just strolling into the zone unmolested. Throw a hip check Stralman!

      • FYI

        The Rangers according to reports, offered Staal Girardi type money, but he is looking for more than Dan. To me, and I could be wrong, that shows he really doesn’t want to be a part of this team long term. We are talking about some $500K more per year, and wants some 5-6 year contract. I say no way to these demands, AMF!!!!!

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