Finding the most effective defense pairings with what the Rangers have

ryan mcdonagh

The Rangers have a problem on the blue line. We can spend years debating what the issue(s) is (are), but the fact remains that there is a problem. Be it personnel, coaching, or system, the problem exists. It is an undeniable fact, and has been for a few years now.

We’ve gone through many iterations of defense combos on the blue line in the first half of the season. The only fact we have come across in those 42 games is that the Blueshirts are going to stick with their current crop, and not call up any prospects to potentially be an upgrade (barring injury). So we are left with one option: Find the most effective pairs, and stick with them.

What this graphic above from hockeyviz.com shows us is how the defense pairings are fairing. Considering how bad the Rangers are at both generating shots and limiting shots against, the chart itself doesn’t really look so good. That shouldn’t surprise anyone, the Rangers are a known entity right now. Score a lot and hope Hank makes the save.

So when it comes to defense pairings, it’s more about limiting damage than it is finding something that truly works. I think we’ve been able to establish that nothing works. Luckily we can use the above, and there are actually three pairings that are on the right side of the “good” measurement.

Ryan McDonagh-Kevin Shattenkirk
Brady Skjei-Marc Staal
Nick Holden-Brendan Smith

At the bottom of the graph are the numbers, and those are actually the only three pairings that have a positive shot differential at 5v5. Now all three have extremely small sample sizes, but since they are positive through more than a few games, it can’t hurt to try them out again, to see if it truly worked, right?

There are two concerns though. The first is Staal on the right side, which may actually work considering it’s his left eye that is wonky. The second is Holden-Smith, as Smith is struggling and Holden has made an epic tumble back to Earth after his solid start. But given the unfortunate reality of the defense group, it is what it is at this point.

There is no perfect solution to the Rangers’ defensive woes. At this point, we’ve seen just about every strategy –save one– exercised, and to no avail. I’d love to see Neal Pionk get a shot, or Tony DeAngelo. Perhaps their time is next year. Either way, the Blueshirts need to minimize the risk of their porous defense if they want to stay relevant this season.