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.