Getting the most out of the defense

marc staal
Michael Martin/Getty Images

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", 5 out of 5 based on 8 ratings.
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  1. the defense is clearly playing great now let’s have a great stretch run and a long run in the playoffs and win the cup

    1. Great D or great goaltending? There is a difference between the two, and you shouldn’t place your cup hopes on the latter.

  2. Too many ifs here for my liking.

    If Girardi plays less minutes on a second pair role
    If Staal plays less minutes on a third paring role
    If Yandle plays more minutes on a second pairing role
    If a potential Staal-Boyle pairing doesn’t blow up in everyone’s faces

    Contrary to amy’s statement above, the defense is not playing great now and certain players haven’t been good for most of the season (Staal especially).

    This was the weakness of the team going into the season, and it still is now.

    My biggest worry was and continues to be being unable to get the puck out consistently and transitioning to offense. Girardi and Staal are HORRIFIC at this, and Boyle has his moments too where they just pass the puck to get rid of it, right to opposing players. This happens far too often, and worries me when the playoffs roll around the the Rangers can’t get out of their own end.

    I’m not sure I trust the coaching staff to make the proper adjustments as well. The “old guard” can do no wrong.

    1. Ranger fan in Boston, your words are so true. The awful play of our defense Boyle/Girardi/Staal, that has been so evident this year, will be our down fall in this years playoffs.

  3. any reason we cant have
    yandle-mcilrath, girardi-sjell after mcdonagh-klein????

    with stall, boyle as extras

    1. Yeah, AV won’t play McIlrath and Skjei (I assume this is who you meant) over Staal and Boyle.

    2. McIlrath is hurt and out for at least two weeks.

      Skjei has played all of four NHL games. Considering the steep learning curve for NHL defensemen, there’s no way you roll the dice with him at this time.

      Barring injuries, I see no way they would go with either kid come playoff time. You get your veterans ready….and expect them to use their experience to do what they did last Spring, which, if they are healthy, will be more than good enough.

    3. I think you meant Staal and Skjei right? Also, a capital letter for the first name would help as well…. In case you didn’t know, Dylan McIlrath got injured and is out a few weeks…

      1. **Also, a capital letter for the first letter in a persons name, let alone the surname would help**

    4. McIlrath is hurt, and out a couple of weeks.

      But even if healthy, AV isn’t going with McIlrath and Skjei over his vets, unless there’s an injury.

      1. I think this is the right call. My concern is what happens if there is an injury to one of the top six – not a decisive injury, but something like we saw last spring. Will AV use the correct judgment and play McIlrath or Skjei over an injured player or insist on playing anyone healthy enough to dress.

        1. Like a cracked knee cap? Which help G out of the lineup for what, three games? That’s how much AV is willing to rely on the newbs

  4. Staal needs to be much better. Yandle needs to at least play a little defense once in a while. Boyle needs to sit, he’s just awful, I’d rather see Diaz at this point. The other 3 are just fine.

    1. In the postseason the cap and waivers are no longer an issue. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Diaz become the 7th D at that point.

    2. Come on Maz.

      Boyle is no where as bad as you claim he is. He was lost all last year and started this season rough out of the gates, but over the past 20 games or so, he’s been solid.

  5. Does anyone actually think Skjei or McIlraith is close to a NHL caliber defenseman at this point? This is probably the 15th post this season about changing the pairs. It’s not going to happen.

    Do you think Hank has input on who he wants in front of him? Do you think he wants the two youngest playing any meaningful minutes.

    And for all you advanced stat junkies, here’s one for you. The Rangers Corsi at 5v5 is all of 2 ATTEMPTS on average per game more. That’s 2 attempts!

    And do you think are Corsi numbers are so bad because we don’t get Power plays?

    Also, check out the top ten CF teams. 4 aren’t making the playoffs.

    Do you think how good you are depends on Goalies?

    Also check the point totals of the Kings, Hawks, Blues, Ducks, Lightning, and Boston. Let me know how the Rangers are doing vs. them.

    1. I have no idea where you’re getting your numbers from, but they are most certainly being filtered incorrectly. Let me help you out here.

      First, all numbers should be at even strength only. PP and PK drastically skew overall numbers. The majority of the game is played at 5v5, and these are the numbers that correlate strongly to winning.

      You should also adjust for score, as teams like Washington that dominate opponents generally play more defensive hockey because they don’t need more offense when they have a big lead.

      Possession numbers are goalie independent.

      Possession numbers are an indicator, there will always be good process teams that lack skill and good skill teams that lack process. You need both skill and possession, as we have always stated here.

      1. You don’t think a lack of power plays impact the game? Washington has had 30 more power play opportunities than NYR and has 17 more goals on the PP.

        Our CF v CA 5v5 is at -270 over 67 games, so it’s actually 4 attempts per game.

        If Corsi means possession and possession means shot attempts, how is that independent of who is in goal?

        1. It’s not completely independent. Lundqvist for example, hurts Corsi in two ways. First, a better puck handler can actually help the possession numbers. Second, opponents sometimes get multiple shots on the same possession, something Hank could remedy simply by letting the first shot in.

        2. You asked about possession, not game impact. Powerplays do not impact possession numbers, because the numbers are at 5v5 only.

          1. Dave,

            BTW, the Capitals have just finished playing 17 of the last 21 games as 1 goal results, they aren’t dominating the score line. Including a record 12 straight one goal games.

            And if you don’t think PP’s influence all aspects of a game, then I don’t know what you are watching. Do you really think Corsi are in a vacuum?

  6. Hey Dave, Klein peaking at 30 isn’t THAT strange. Lots of D peak later in their careers. Look at our old buddy Anton Stralman. I know he was pretty great when he was a Ranger, but he continues to get even better every year and he’s turning 30 this August.

      1. Wow, you’re right. I didn’t notice his GP went down dramatically after that breakout season. It’s so strange that he was almost run out of the NHL until the Rangers salvaged him off the scrapheap.

  7. Say what you will and propose any line combos you want. The plain fact is that AV will use McD/Girardi as the top/shutdown pair. He ain’t changing his mind.

    It took two years to get Yandle some PP time, remember?

    Only way McIlrath or Skjei get ANY time in the play-offs is if one of the other 6 is hurt. Deal with it.

    One more thing, if you think Glass sits over Oskar you are not watching enough AV coached NYR games.

  8. Nothing is going to change at this stage of the game. Just hope that we don’t get the injury bug again this season, if we do, we’re in deep tapioca. AV is AV, he is set in his ways, and won’t bend.

    I would feel much more comfortable if DMC, and Brady were available to us over Diaz. Let’s face it, he didn’t make the cut early in the season, wasn’t called up during the season, and won’t see the ice unless the wheels fall off of the entire defense. My fear is that AV would pull the same crapola again if we do see injuries, a repeat of last season!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Diaz was hurt the first time the Rangers needed him. I assume the reason they opted with Skjei later on had more to with the cap and waivers than Diaz vs. Skjei.

      Also, Skjei has been ok, Walt. I wouldn’t be too concerned if he had to be the 6th D in the playoffs. I think AV could play him enough that it doesn’t devolve into another Stu Bickel in the 2011-12 playoffs situation.

  9. So I am truly confused about possession numbers. It seemed to me that if you simply looked at SAT % 5 v 5 when the game is tied, you would have no problem with score effects. So I just took the numbers from the NHL website.

    Using these stats to rank the teams, we see that Tampa Bay is the best team in the East, OK so far. The Metro crown goes to Carolina (who knew), with the 2nd and 3rd spots going to the Penguins and Flyers. In the other division, the 2 and 3 slots go to Montreal and Toronto. The wild cards go to the Islanders and Boston.

    The Rangers apparently don’t even deserve to make the playoffs and need to spend April watching from home (along with the other poor teams such as Washington, Florida, and Detroit).

    Ranking the teams by overall SAT, ahead, tied, behind, close, we see that Toronto beats Washington in four out of five categories (Wash wins in SAT behind).

    A stat that gets half of the East playoff teams right and puts the worst team in the NHL ahead of the best seems dubious to me.

    I suspect adding uniform numbers is a better predictor of success than Corsi.

  10. You are making two separate points in one argument, and one is not contingent on the second . A- that Girardi would be better served playing against opponents second line, and 2- that Girardi would be better paied with Yandle than Mcd.
    Your first point may have merit, but your second one is wrong IMO. According to their WOWY chart, Mcd and Girardi this season have a ga/60 of 1.8, and Yandel-Klein have a GA/60 of 1.23. If you flip the lines as you suggest, Klein-McD would be at 1.36, and Yandle-Girardi at 2.14. In essence making both lines worse than they were previously. The better option is to leave McD with Girardi this season, but just allow Yandle-Klein to go against the opponent’s top line, and let McD-Girardi play as the second pair defensive pairing.

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