Ryan McDonagh needs to be better

ryan mcdonagh
Ryan McDonagh

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.

The difference between Girardi (who regresses with each passing calendar month) and McDonagh is both the expectation and overall impact they have. Girardi is what he is. He is a hard working, predominantly shutdown defenseman who, against the right opposition and used the right way, is a solid top four guy. Even with his regression iron many Dan is (still, and for now) a serviceable blueliner. But so much more is expected but above all needed from McDonagh.

McDonagh is not contributing offensively (zero offense) and he definitely hasn’t passed the eye test – his passing has been poor (his outlet passes aren’t exactly Bobby Orr-esque this season) and he’s mishandling the puck on a regular basis. In his own zone, McDonagh has been guilty of several ugly turnovers, often leading to significant chances and goals against. Nine games into the new season and McDonagh already had an ugly -7 turnover differential – worst (with Girardi) amongst Ranger blueliners.

McDonagh’s play appears tentative both on and off the puck. His decision making (normally such an asset of his) has been slow and at best inconsistent. In short, McDonagh has done very little right so far this season. But what is wrong with a player known for his reliability and elite level talent? At present he’s a long way from being in any kind of Norris trophy conversation. A conversation Rangers fans have grown used to initiating.

The problem is that the Rangers cannot afford McDonagh to be this bad. They can cope with Girardi’s regression if McDonagh and Marc Staal etc. are on their games. When the Rangers captain and best overall defenseman is also off his game it has a trickledown effect on the entire unit and the results are an array of turnovers, ill timed pinches, bad reads and subsequent odd man rushes.

Somehow, entering Sunday’s game with the Flames, the Rangers sported a healthy 5-2-1 record. You can thank Henrik Lundqvist’s sublime start to the year for that season opening and somewhat misleading record. If players as irreplaceable as Ryan McDonagh can’t find their feet soon, don’t expect the record to continue to look so positive.

"Ryan McDonagh needs to be better", 5 out of 5 based on 10 ratings.
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  1. I am glad you are mentioning this, as I was thinking it. I also think you can add Boyle, Nash & Stepan’s name to the crowd. I watched Saturday, against Philly, and came away thinking this is a very “average’ team. No “wow”, nobody putting the team on their back and carrying them – something our captain needs to do from time to time.

    Unless he feels he cannot trust his blueline mate, there is no excuse for hi less than enthusiastic play. I am not saying McIlvaine is ready for fulltime duties, but after this weekend, I can see all but Yandle and Klein needing to watch from the pressbox in the next 2 weeks. A light scheduled over the next 7 days hopefully will get him back engaged.

    1. Sal, I agree about the lack of “wow” factor thus far (except for Lundqvist obviously). And I agree McDonagh needs to be way better. But unless they are physically unable to play, the only way the defense will round into form is to play them. Benching them is an old school Torts/Keenan kind of move that in this day and age doesn’t work and would likely backfire. That’s not AV’s style. He said he wants to see what’s he got after 15-20 games. Let them round into form over the next handful of games and we’ll see where we are.

      But obviously, at a certain point, they have to play up to their capabilities.

  2. This is a very good post. Chris, thanks for coming out with this.

    The entire D-Line has been relatively poor this season, compared to what we are used to. Yandle and Klein have been OK, but the others have not. if not for Hank, I could see us below .500 at this point in the season.

  3. I think McDonagh is still bothered by his injury from last seasons ECF. I don’t root for players to have surgery but when they say “it’s not required” I worry because now the injury needs to heal on its own. We don’t know that McDonagh has full power and/or mobility in the injured leg.

    For a player that relies on his skating ability as heavily as McDonagh does, I’d venture a guess that he’s not 100% yet. It may take him a month to feel like himself. I don’t understand why he hasn’t had a day off yet to rest & heal. The injury won’t heal completely and the leg won’t become as strong as it should be unless Mac gets some rest. Rest is just as important to getting stronger as the workout.

    1. The problem I think is bad decisions. Many people are still making bad decisions like the coach. Who do you put in, in the shootout?
      Back to Mc D, Get back to the basics and don’t try to jump-in all the time.

    2. Jon, I agree to an extent. But if he’s been medically cleared to play, then he isn’t going to get better by sitting. The only choice is to give him the time to play himself into shape. The team needs to establish consistency. Benching guys, especially when you’re winning, does the oppotsite of that. Who needs to rest after ten games, especially with lots of off days coming up?

  4. I said this before, and I’ll get the thumbs down for saying it again, maybe they should take the C from Mac Truck. He stated he didn’t feel comfortable with the captaincy last season, he still may be uncomfortable now. Let him be an alternate captain, and give the C to someone else, what have we to loose???????

    1. Taking the C away now may do more harm than good. I think it sends the wrong message. It’s hard to separate the team leadership aspect from the play on the ice, but I think it’s important to do so.

      I tend to agree with Jon’s post above in that he may not be completely recovered from him injury from last season. I believe there are enough leaders on this team where McD is not shouldering the load. It’s a group that’s been together awhile, they all lean on each other.

      I’m hoping this is an issue that time will resolved, but no doubt, he needs to be better.

    2. The team goes 6-2-2 in their first 10 and you want to strip the C from their leader? That would only lower McD’s confidence even further, which would have a negative ripple effect down the whole lineup.

      Am I the only one feeling like we got away with highway robbery taking 14 of 20 possible points in the first ten, with the way our top guys have been performing (or not performing for that matter)?

      Understand we need to be better, be grateful we managed a strong start of the season on the backs of Lindberg, Klein, Yandle, Zucc, and goaltending, and expect more from our top players. Not the time to start panicking and talk about changing up leadership, IMO.

    3. Walt, your point is valid in that I too wonder if the burden of the “C” may be too much for him. But I agree with Boston and Randy. It can’t happen now. The timing would be terrible and would do far more harm than good. That’s a Torts/Keenan kind of move that would lose the room.

      1. The thought only came about because he stated it himself that he wasn’t comfortable. Maybe AV should ask the kid if that is indeed the case, if not, nothing happens, and nothing is lost. I’m a big fan of Mac Truck but he isn’t playing to his standard, and if it’s not physical, then it may be mental.

  5. It’s not Girardi, it’s not Boyle, it’s McDonagh who has attain ed the whipping boy crown from Glass. Congrats, Ryan!

  6. Let’s not sell the D too short here. It isn’t all Lundqvist. The Rangers have won half of the games Lundqvist has played in and all of the games he has not. The way he plays the puck, Lundqvist makes the defense look bad. Yes, Hank is an outstanding goaltender, but he will always appear to be even better than he is.

    Maybe the start is a fluke, but so far it is the third consecutive year where Hank is second in regular season Ranger goaltender numbers.

    1. You’ve got to be kidding, right?

      So, if you’re the coach, would you start Raanta and make Hank the back up?

      Let’s say every goaltender in the league were available as a UFA right now. Money is no object. Age is not a factor either–just one year…Cup or bust. Guaranteed Hank is one of the top three guys picked by EVERY GM. And certainly NOT Raanta or Talbot. Fine goaltenders in their own right, but c’mon, seriously????? Hank is THE reason why we are off to the start we are off to.

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, NY sports fans, for some bizarre reason, fall in love with their backup goaltenders and back up quarterbacks, and don’t realize what they have as a starter until he’s gone.

      1. Lol when Talbot is nominated for the Vezina every year for like the next 8 and wins one or two, then we can have a discussion of which goalie is better……until then, what Eddie said

      2. C’mon, everyone seems to be saying that the Ranger D is off to a horrid start and only Hank is bailing them out. However, without Hank, the defense has yielded one goal in two games. That is hardly a horrible defense. My point was not that Talbot and Raanta are better than Hank (Raanta has played two games so far); my point is that if the backup is consistently beating the starter, just maybe it is the team defense that is keeping the puck out of the net.

        Hank is an unbelievable goaltender. Than again, so is every NHL goalie. At this point, I definitely see him in the top ten. Top three -no way. Not in the same zip code as Carey Price.

        Also, the Rangers are as good as they are. The record is clear. The statement that Hank is the greatest goalie is another way of saying that the other players aren’t very good. I appreciate Hank less because I appreciate the skaters more.

        1. There is a reason why castaway goalkeepers can come to New York and look like superstars and that is the Rangers defence. Cam Talbot is looking ordinary in Edmonton and I wonder what kind of career Lundqvist would have in he was in Calgary or Buffalo.

        2. No. If he had a few years and fizzled into mediocrity, sure, you could argue his flaws were masked by a strong team. 10+ strong consecutive years should be a screaming sign that he is better than mediocre. Do you remember when the Rangers were as mediocre as they come (a la Cal / Buf) and Lundy put them in the playoffs every single year while being a constant Vezina nominee?

          620 games played 2.26 GAA, .921 sv%
          Playoffs…. improves to 2.22 and .923
          Don’t make me go dig up his elimination game #s.

          Ray and Bloomer….. you guys are fooled by expecting perfection- a shut out every game- and because you don’t get that, you call him mediocre.

          Did you guys appreciate him more when he was covering for a blueline with fill ins like Malik, Poti, Bickel, Redden…. we weren’t always a strong club. Hank fooled us all.

          1. I said one of the top ten goalies in hockey – that is hardly mediocre. I am objecting to the basic tone that the Rangers are playing like crap and Hank alone is saving them from oblivion.

            For the record, given the choice, I would have kept Hank and traded Talbot. I suspect Talbot is better, but I know Hank is a top ten goalie and will remain so. I don’t KNOW that Talbot will be a top 30 goalie. One does not forgo certainty for a maybe.

            And if you think top ten is selling Hank short, ask yourself how many goaltenders are you completely confident will be in the top ten.

          2. Hatrick, nailed it as always.

            Bloomer and Ray, you can make the same argument for anyone. Don’t you think Carey Price benefits from the fact that the Canadiens have a great defense? There are many who say that Brodeur was only great because of the Devils system. Would Gretzky be as much “The Great One” if he didn’t play with Messier, Kuri, Coffey, etc.? Would Montana have been as great as he was without Rice? Jeter without the rest of the Core Four?

            Obviously, Lundqvist’s greatness is a team effort, just like virtually every athlete that’s ever played a team sport. Of course the Rangers defense has been a key part for his success over the past decade. But I will tell you, think about all the goalies in the NHL over the past decade and who their supporting cast was. You can easily make the argument that Hank has done more with a cast of good but not great players than any goaltender of the past decade.

            And in my view, he is on his way to easily being the best goalie in Rangers history…easily. Why? Eddie had HOFers Ratelle, Gilbert and Park. Richter had HOFers Messier, Gartner and Leetch. Name the future HOFers who were in their prime over this past decade of greatness from Hank? There probably will be none.

            Yes, there have been other very good players who have contributed to the Rangers success, but I can’t think of too many players in any sport that singularly have meant more to their team’s success than Hank. He’s a sure fire HOFer, and there is likely more greatness to come.

            And just like Eddie (who many fans said….he can’t win the big one…play Villemure) and Richter (after the Cup win, many fans said that the team won in spite of him…bench him and play Healy!), he will go under appreciated….until he retires and we will one day say “when will we find ourselves another one like him?”

            Just the nature of fans who don’t appreciate the greatness that is in front of them. I can only imagine what will happen when he does become human and has a stretch of bad games! Yikes!

          3. If Lundqvist cools off and has a few stinker games, not to worry this blog will put in all on Girardi and Boyle.

          4. I gave you a thumbs up my man, you have a way with words, and expressed a point of view that many have before you, but not quite so eloquently !!!!!!!!!

          5. Strange is this may sound, it is actually possible that Hank is both the greatest goalie in Ranger history and overrated. When it comes to stopping individual shots aimed at the net, he is as good a tender as has ever played the game. He is the consummate highlight reel goalie. However, goalies like Price, Fleury, Brodeur help the defense in other ways. With those tenders, the defense appears better than it is because the offense has fewer options. With Lundqvist, the defense appears worse than it is.

            Note: another tender with Hank’s shortcomings was Patrick Roy. You absolutely can win a Cup with a goalie like Hank.

  7. Good post Chris. Honestly, I don’t think he’s been as good since he was named captain. In every season leading up to the last you could see him develop by leaps and bounds, but there really haven’t been signs he’s been improving so much between last season and this season.

    He’s not the only player on this team who needs to improve, but if the Rangers are going make that next step they need him to play to his potential.

  8. McD played below par when Girardi was passing the puck to the opponent or in the skates of NYR forwards. Since Klein was paired with McD, the Capt looks better and more confident in moving the puck up the ice and joining the play.

    The team has started like poop the last two seasons and is coming out with pts while still not playing well and the offense, esp for first 2 lines, not contributing like they could. That is a good omen IMHO.

    1. It is a good omen because the team knows it needs to play better. They aren’t fooling themselves.

  9. Before the season, I said there are three guys (other than the obvious stars they have in Nash and Hank) that need to have monster years for the Rangers to have their best chance to win the Cup–Kreider, Yandle and McDonagh.

    Kreider, because he’s not even in his prime yet, has incredible skill and talent, and hasn’t yet come close to reaching the potential of just how good he can be.

    Yandle, because he is a two time all star, one of the best offensive defensemen of the past decade, in his prime and staring at a huge UFA summer where he can set himself up for life with a big year.

    And McDonagh, who’s reached his prime, was talked about at this time last year as a potential Norris candidate.

    If all three play up to expectations, no doubt in my mind, Rangers win the Cup.

    Now, it has only been 10 games–way, way, WAY too soon to draw any conclusions. But 10 is all we have, so what have we seen thus far?

    Kreider–as I said on the other page, moments of brilliance coupled with far too many moments of invisibility and uncertainty it seems. I expected him to get off to a big start. So I’m disappointed but still hopeful he can finally fulfill his potential. He MUST if the Rangers are going to succeed.

    Yandle–while not great, he’s been mostly good so far (yesterday’s poor performance not withstanding). Love the way he moves the puck. Based on what we’ve seen thus far, I think he’s on his way.

    McDonagh–we have to assume the major issue is his off-season training was disrupted as he recovered from his injury. He’s been painfully mediocre. Our best defenseman simply can’t be mediocre. I’m hopeful with more time to round into form, we will see the guy we saw we saw two years ago and to some extent what we saw in the playoffs last season. He MUST find his game, or we will be in trouble.

    Think about it…..Nash, Kreider, McDonagh all greatly underachieving….and yet we’re 6-2-2. They are AV’s find-a-way Rangers once again!

    1. I think Mac, Staal & Girardi did not get in enough work over the summer because of their injuries, so it is possible they are not in top shape yet. We’ll see.

  10. I almost shudder to think of if the Rangers heads 2-5-2 record.

    11 of a possible 16 points if my math is right.

    If they are doing that bad and still winning so much then it will only get better. Even AV said October would be rough.

  11. McD takes entirely too many hard checks during a game for a so-called elite player. Either he asserts himself to keep players honest, or he is never gonna’ get through a season unscathed. Or, maybe,—-heres a thought—-can someone on the team, maybe, payback,— just once,—- one of the hard checks the Captain absorbs? Just once?

    1. I’m surprised that Bobby B hasn’t chimed in with The Undertaker!!!!!

      LOL Bobby, just busting chops for few laughs………….

  12. This is why depth is important. It allows the best players adequate time to recover from earlier injuries. Staal, Girardi and McD didn’t have much of a training camp. It would make sense that they are off to slow starts.

    Right now Hank, Raanta, the third line, Yandle and Klein are picking up the rest of the team. The Rangers have won 6 of their first 10 and are a virtual lock for the postseason. Eventually, the top players will start pulling their collective weight and this team will continue to win but actually look formidable doing it.

    The MLB season isn’t even over yet and the NFL season is just about to reach its halfway mark and some of you guys are griping over the Rangers being 6-2-2? Let’s have some perspective here.

  13. The main and only reason we are 6-2-2 is because of lunquist…….he make at least 10 difficult saves a game whereas the rangers offense cant muster more than 5 or 6 quality scoring chances on the opposing goalie…..switch goalies in the philly game we lose about 6-0…….

    Defense outside of klein and yandle stinks……offense outside of zucc and lindberg mostly invisible………only good thing is that allour free or restricted free agants at end of this year will have horrible stats and be easy to resign….

    Dont like AV as a coach

    would love to see Mcilrath and diaz and sjell in for girardi, boyle and stall ……

    1. Right. After 10 games, let’s blow up the core of the defense. Makes complete sense.

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