Pat’s post this morning inspired me. With this many off days in a row, we get a chance to digest what we’ve seen and rationally evaluate what the Rangers have for the stretch run. The forwards are a deep group and it should just be a matter of getting the right mixture out there, especially when Rick Nash returns. The defense, however, is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.
The Rangers have three defensemen that are overall solid: Ryan McDonagh, Keith Yandle, and Kevin Klein. Klein peaked at 30 years old, which is all sorts of odd, but hey, you take it. After them, you have Dan Girardi (bad this year, but better of late), Marc Staal (horrible this year), and Dan Boyle (can’t skate, can still pass). It’s about maximizing what you can get out of these guys for the playoffs.
Alain Vigneault seems set on having his “shutdown pair” of McDoangh-Girardi. I can see the logic in that, as both have been workhorses since arriving in New York. The only real question about this is whether or not Girardi, who has regressed this year, should be on that top pair. Klein has been better all season. If the top pair is supposed to be your best defensemen, then it logically makes sense to have Klein on that pair with McDonagh.
With Klein on the top pair, Girardi slides down to the second pair with Yandle. This is the best pairing possible for Girardi. Yandle keeps him afloat, and Girardi can make up the difference with smart pinches (a very strong part of his game) and covering for Yandle when he’s driving the offense. Girardi’s lost a step, but playing with an offensive wizard limits what he needs to do. It simplifies his game, making him more effective.
And that brings us to the bottom pair. Which….um….yikes. Staal will be in the lineup when healthy. He will be paired with Boyle. That pairing is scary, since Staal has been terrible and Boyle has his moments. But theoretically they should have chemistry, since they were paired together last season. So hey, a positive.
The defense is what it is at this point, and the coaching staff will need to evaluate how to get the best out of their players for the playoff run. That means recognizing players may not be what they once were, and putting them in positions to succeed. It also means leaning on the guys who are producing in big roles/minutes. This blue line, in the right roles, can stay afloat while the forwards and Henrik Lundqvist carry them. If in the right roles."Getting the most out of the defense",