The Rangers can probably tolerate one blueliner playing poorly until they finally decide to amend their blueline closer to the trade deadline, a time when cap space is likely to be plentiful and when the typical NYC obsession with acquiring a big name will take over Jeff Gorton. What they cannot afford is to have multiple liabilities on the back end, particularly on a unit that cannot move the puck as it is and on a unit, that is seemingly playing worse in its own zone as the season progresses.
Kevin Klein has truly come back down to earth and is nowhere near the player the Rangers have enjoyed over the past couple of seasons. His form with and without the puck is becoming a serious problem for the Rangers. With his unsustainable level of offense now a memory, Klein is standing out more for his multiple turnovers, poor positional play and general incompetence on the ice. His indecisiveness and hesitation on the puck right in front of Henrik Lundqvist against the ‘Canes – that led to Viktor Stalberg’s goal – was typical of the Klein we’ve seen this season more often than not.
What’s worse (and this is the eye test and without reference to analytics) is that his play appears to be negatively affecting Brady Skjei’s performances as well. If you think Brady Skjei’s form has dipped too – and it has – and you then factor in Dan Girardi’s regression following his own strong start to the year, all of a sudden the Rangers have at least half of their blueline playing below an acceptable standard and all of a sudden ladies and gentlemen, you have yourselves a problem. That’s without considering the flaws of Nick Holden and Marc Staal.
The Rangers need to either insert Adam Clendening (where have we heard that before?) and see what he gives you over a prolonged stretch of games, or address the blueline meaningfully before the trade deadline. My initial thinking was that the Rangers, thanks in large part to their strong start to the regular season, could wait out as long as possible before addressing their blueline need. I have changed my thinking. Changes need to happen soon and in large part because of Kevin Klein’s regression.
If there is a legitimate top four defenseman out there (Hello Calgary) that the Rangers can use their forward depth to acquire then they need to be proactive. They should not chase an unnecessary rental, give away what few quality prospects or young players they have, nor should they recklessly ship out draft picks without getting a quality return. However, the Rangers potentially have a good maybe even brilliant chance of a successful season on the hands.
The Rangers offense can seemingly stay the course with any other in the league and if you spot Henrik Lundqvist a lead there are few (if any) that are better. The Rangers defense however, promises to undermine an exciting season and it is arguably Kevin Klein that is fast becoming the biggest issue on a blueline that needs serious attention.