Figuring out Alain Vigneault’s thought process on the defense
Boy, the Rangers play two mediocre games and all of a sudden the world is ending. The focus, as always, has been on the defense. But let’s be clear here. We all knew the defense was in need of an upgrade before the season started. The major problem lies on the right side, where Dan Girardi plays top pairing minutes and Kevin Klein has been bouncing between second and third pair. Brady Skjei has moved to that side to try to stabilize everything.
Dylan McIlrath wasn’t the answer. Adam Clendening may or may not be a viable bottom-pairing guy, and we won’t know until he’s in the lineup more consistently. Alain Vigneault is going to lean on his guys until major roster decisions are made down the road. So let’s try to get into AV’s head and understand why he’s making the decisions he’s making, instead of just bashing him or the players blindly.
It’s clear Ryan McDonagh is the top defenseman on this team. He’s going to get those minutes as well. The struggle has been finding someone to play with him. Starting with the vocal problem: Clendo is not a top-pairing defenseman. For all his strengths in moving the puck, he may not succeed in that role. Of course, we won’t know unless he’s put in that role, but I have my doubts in that role.
The loudest Clendo supports are clamoring about his CF%, which is pretty stellar at the moment. However there’s more to the position than CF%, as we’ve stressed here countless times. Clendo does make a great first pass and has superior passing to at least half of the defensemen currently playing regularly. I’d like to see him get a game or two in that role, but that’s my own personal opinion. It’s clear AV does not want him in that role, and that’s the theme of this post.
Sticking with who to play with McDonagh, Klein has struggled this year and has also struggled in that role. Nick Holden struggled in that role. Putting Skjei there severely limits the bottom-four’s effectiveness. By process of elimination, that leaves Girardi, who is the only player with documented success with McDonagh. But it’s worth noting that success was at least three seasons ago. AV has a history of leaning on his guys, and Girardi is his guy, for better or for worse.
Now that we understand how Girardi gets these minutes, the rest of the defense is pretty easy to figure out. Marc Staal has been the guy behind McDonagh forever, so he’s easy to figure out as the 2LD in AV’s thought process. Skjei has been the best non-McDonagh defenseman, so he slides into the 2RD spot, even if he’s a lefty.
That leaves Holden, someone who came with a blessing and who has played significantly better in the 3LD role. 3RD is Klein, since Skjei has passed him on the depth chart. Since Clendo is not an AV guy, he’s the odd man out.
Personally, I’d like to see Skjei play with McDonagh and put Clendo with Staal on the second pair. That leaves Holden and one of Girardi/Klein as the bottom pair. It’s not ideal, but I think it maximizes potential on the roster. Clearly AV has a different thought process, if my inferences in this post are accurate.