Ryan McDonagh has regained his status as one of the league’s elite defensemen

In hindsight, the 7-6 circus loss to the Dallas Stars on January 17 might have been the low-water mark of the 2016-2017 season for the Rangers. That marked the third time in 11 games the club yielded as many as seven goals and the Blueshirts were mired in a stretch of atrocious defensive play that made playoff contention seem comical.

But since that night, New York has given up four goals or more only six times in 27 games, and just twice surrendered as many as five.

In fact, the Rangers have allowed just 64 goals over that timeframe – a stingy 2.37 goals-against per game, which would rank fourth in the league if it were the team’s season-long rate.

The Blueshirts have actually allowed roughly three more shot attempts per game since the Dallas debacle, but data from Corsica.Hockey indicates there has been a dramatic difference in the quality of those shots.

At even strength New York was allowing 8.93 scoring chances per 60 minutes before the Stars game, compared to 7.57 since. Taking into account all game situations, the drop-off is 9.59 to 8.24.

While Emmanuel Perry’s expected goals against statistic reflects a lesser difference, the reduced scoring chances against combined with some visible on-ice changes have made a world of difference.

The systemic breakdowns that were rampant during the slump haven’t been eliminated completely, but they’re far and few between now. Revived NY Rangers blogger Kevin DeLury flagged the change over a month ago and the momentum has continued in recent weeks.

It of course starts in net, where Henrik Lundqvist has been his old self for a couple months now, and he has been buoyed by ace backup Antti Raanta.

It also certainly hadn’t hurt that several of the team’s more defensively responsible forwards have returned from lengthy injury absences including Rick Nash, Mika Zibanejad and briefly, Jesper Fast.

There’s also been addition by subtraction on the blueline, where veterans Kevin Klein and Dan Girardi have been replaced by the surprisingly effective tandem of Steven Kampfer and Adam Clendening.

The acquisition of Brendan Smith, marked growth of Brady Skjei and Oscar Lindberg, and return to Norris form by Ryan McDonagh have all been major factors as well.

The result is a squad that’s not quite up to its usual standards defensively, but is now ranked a respectable No. 11 in the league in goals against and once again looks like it could be competitive in the postseason.


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