Ryan McDonagh’s Strange Season

The Rangers up-and-down start to the 2017-18 season has called into question every facet of the team.  From Alain Vigneault’s obvious flaws, to questions about Henrik Lundqvist’s “decline”, to the lack of real center depth, there’s been no shortage of talking points as fans and analysts have tried to figure out why the Rangers have been largely mediocre this season.

One of the players that’s caught my eye this season, often for the wrong reasons, is Ryan McDonagh.  Even the most staunch McDonagh fan would have to admit that the Ranger captain just doesn’t look right.  His up-and-down season reached its nadir with a historically bad performance on Tuesday night vs. Dallas.

In that game, McDonagh was uncannily terrible.  He was on the ice for 45 shot attempts against and just 11 for in about 20 minutes of 5v5 ice time.  Yes, the team around him was horrendous, and yes his partner was Nick Holden for two periods (we’ll get to that), but this type of performance from a player of McDonagh’s caliber is hard to explain, and difficult to excuse.

We learned in November that McDonagh had been dealing with an abdominal strain, and the Rangers shut him down for four games.  In the five games after his return from injury (not including last night’s game against Ottawa), the supposedly healthy McDonagh posted the following on-ice numbers (data from

  • 12/1 vs. Carolina: 22:54 TOI, 1 assist, 45.95 5v5 CF%, 8 scoring chances for/11 against
  • 12/5 vs. Pittsburgh: 25:10 TOI, 17.65 5v5 CF%, 5 scoring chances for/10 against
  • 12/8 vs. Washington: 24:47 TOI, 1 assist, 44.12 5v5 CF%, 7 scoring chances for/9 against
  • 12/9 vs. New Jersey: 23:03 TOI, 1 assist, 48.57 5v5 CF%, 12 scoring chances for/7 against
  • 12/11 vs. Dallas: 25:01 TOI, 19.64 5v5 CF%, 9 scoring chances for/23 against

The cherry on top of all this?  McDonagh is without a goal so far this season.

So if McDonagh is actually healthy, what’s the explanation for his subpar play this year?  The easiest place to point the finger is at McDonagh’s defense partner, Nick Holden.  But as Dave highlighted a couple of weeks ago, Holden actually hasn’t been that bad (though he’s most assuredly not a first-pair defenseman).

Even more concerning is the fact that McDonagh just isn’t influencing play when he’s on the ice. McDonagh’s CF% relative to teammates is just 0.97, and his xGF% of 46.34 clocks in at -2.22 compared to the rest of the Rangers. For reference, Nick Holden’s relative CF% is 1.75, and his relative xGF% is 5.81. In the words of Internet legend Homestar Runner: “I’m sorry…what?”

So what should the Rangers do?  McDonagh is a cornerstone of the franchise.  He’s the captain, and if the Rangers believe they are capable of making a run, McDonagh will simply have to play better.  If that’s how coaches and management intend to proceed (and let’s be honest, they probably do), then there really is nothing to do other than continue playing him 25 minutes every night and allowing him to play through his issues.

Of course, there are other options.  One is reuniting McDonagh with Kevin Shattenkirk, and truly optimizing the defensive pairings behind a bona fide top two.  The other is to explore a trade, but that’s a discussion for another post.

It’s been a tough year for Ryan McDonagh.  Here’s hoping the captain figures it out.

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  • Nice article Rob, many of us have noticed this from training camp…….I thought it may have been a case of trying to outperform Shattenkirk, but now its looking more like the ”’Girardi Syndrome”’– all of a sudden a very good, consistent, defensively reliable player cant perform any more at that level and often times looks terrible…….
    The only hope is that he is suffering from a minor chronic injury that will eventually heal and he will be back to the old mcdonagh……..if not, our best defenseman since leetch , has a contract that is movable…..
    Maybe we should be looking for a ”’girardi” ‘type right defenseman to pair him with…..instead of a center……
    On a different note…..Desharnais looks terrible, kreider and buch are playing two on three!!!!! When will Zib be back???

  • McDonagh is a good to very good 2-way defenseman, and he’ll play better. I think the expectations some like Joe Micheletti had for Norris contention a few years ago may not happen, but he’ll be better than fine.

    GIFs and supreme fan knowledge aside, he played with a defense-first D-man in Girardi most of his career. For all the overanalysis the new stat world gives, you don’t need a statistics degree to know how that helped Leetch (Beukeboom), Ruotsalainen (Beck) and countless others in Ranger worlds and others. More mistakes ending up in the back of the net impacts chance taking and confidence.

    Playing Shattenkirk with McD regularly would be a mistake. PP (when KS isn’t with Skjei) or offense situations is great. Sometimes we have to see past who is a “first line” D. We don’t have anyone playing 6 mins like some teams do. As with our O, we’re a depth team on D, and all 6-7 will be out there in key spots.

    Before any misinterpretation is responded to, I like Shattenkirk as a needed upgrade, especially on the PP, and I like that he’s a local and good/positive guy and more. We’ll be better and it was the right move (for similar money as G even), but right now the D is struggling. Lot of TOs (especially KS and Smith in my view). I think Staal and Holden are fine. Where we’ll be better is as Skjei develops more into the star he’ll be, McD improves as he will, and KS gets Zib back on the PP, where he’s strongest.

    • I agree pairing Kevin Shattenkirk with McDonagh full time at 5 on 5 would be a mistake. However, when the Rangers need a goal late, I’d put them together and let Mac use his skating ability to join the Rush.
      Hopefully he will be ok playing through injury or we may never know.

      • Agree for sure. Both elevate their games in desperate times, and you need to be a good skater to come back when the full assault is stopped.

  • The burden is on McDonough and injuries makes things worse. Maybe if the C was not on him, he could perform and excel?
    You would think the players read the blogs and some get inspired and some get overwhelmed.
    I don’t envy him and his situation.

  • Abdominal strain my butt.

    He has torn something and it will require surgery to fix. He went for a dr appt and found out will he make it worse by playing and is 75% McDonough good enough. To keep playing or shut himself down for the season.

    • Hurt or not, Smith is the real enigma.Not the man who played sooooo much better last year. Was on for at least 2 of 3 goals.

  • I’ve always thought 27 was a little overrated around here. He’s good, yes. Real good. Great?… not so sure. And I’ve never really thought of him as Norris-caliber probably ever.

    But I’ve always thought his leadership was waaaaaay overrated. I just don’t see it. He seems similar to Leetch in this regard, where it just doesn’t seem to suit him. It’s not really a knock, just his personality. I think he would be much better off if he didn’t have the C on his shoulder. IMO, the leadership (not just him) has slipped since the days when Brad Richards and Marty St. Louis were here. That “I f’n love being a NY Ranger” quote from Marty still resonates with a lot of fans. We’re missing that attitude over the past few seasons…

  • Been watching alot of highlights around the league. We dont have a Great goalie anymore. Hank is good but not great. Alot of these goals are weak. I mean he had clear sight on the first goal against the sens. And he was above the circles by 10 feet in the middle there was no deflection. And cody ceci scores from the middle of the red circle? Cody ceci is the worst defensemen in the league. Hank is not challenging the shooters even when he has clear sight lines. And that last goal was horrible. Ever heard of a poke check hank? I mean the stick isnt there for appearances. Or just simply sweep it out to stop a pass in front. 8 Seconds in …i know you were not into it. He is horrible. And he is making a AHL goalie look like the better option.
    Ok rant over.

    Offense: We have 2 lines with guys that no one can keep up with. Krieder and Grabner are just too fast. The league has figure out to sit back with krieder but still slow on grabner. I mean that tap in goal on the rush by zuc and grabner is just never seen. no way he realizes that grabner was sitting back door for the tap in. The defender figures ah it is going wide dont touch it. dink it is in the net.
    But with AV this team lives and dies not on him adjusting to a trap system. We destroyed the Senators last time and started their long slide. Same exact team yet we totally owned them like dallas just did to us. So there is no adjusting. AV has a simple style and it is if he has a 4th line good enough to play the opponents 1st line and shut them down. Rangers win. Not complex. So when nieves carey and fast or vesey can get it done the rangers win. Look and see if anyone can find a game where the 4th line was a negative and the rangers won. It never happens. I mean the man did it in the first game of the stanley cup final …boyle dorsett and moore.

    Agree with everyone else Mac is hurt. Needs to have surgery. Bring up Graves and let him try to push people out from in front of the net. Seriously anyone will do better. Except DAngelo.

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