Analysis

It’s time to shake up those defense pairings

No, this is not an overreaction to last night’s abysmal performance by the blue line. It is not recency bias based on their inability to cover the front of the net in allowing seven goals. The Rangers have a bit of a problem on the blue line, something we all knew was coming. A system change only goes so far.

Currently the Rangers are hemorrhaging shots. Yes defense is a team effort, but changing up pairs of blue liners that simply have not worked well together is a step in the right direction.

Brooksie hits the nail on the head here, and something that has been brought up before. The Neal Pionk/Marc Staal combination, both on the PK and at even strength, has been atrocious. People will look to Pionk’s point totals and say he’s fine, but that doesn’t mean he’s playing well in his own end (as a side note, Pionk’s point totals can absolve him of poor defensive play, but not Shattenkirk’s? Come on now).

Since the personnel likely won’t change any time soon –sorry folks, but you’re going to be seeing Marc Staal, Adam McQuaid, and Brendan Smith a lot– then we need to look at optimizing the players currently on the roster.

Here is a quick look at how the pairs have fared so far. It isn’t pretty. As a whole, the club is in the “bad” section of this visual, with only Kevin Shattenkirk and Fredrik Claesson having a net positive impact while on the ice (Smith is around neutral). That is…not ideal.

In terms of absolute top pairings, Shattenkirk and Brady Skjei are well above the rest. That makes sense, since they are your two best defensemen. Shocker, I know. Shattenkirk has a positive influence on everyone he’s paired with, but since we can’t clone him, we have to figure out the other pairs without him.

On the flip side of things, Pionk/Staal and Skjei/McQuaid have been absolutely atrocious and should never be paired together ever again. This is not hyperbole. They are by far the two worst pairings the Rangers have used. Skjei/Pionk isn’t all that good either.

Interestingly enough, the pairing of Smith and Staal has been somewhat decent, but they’ve only played 44 minutes together. If Staal needs to remain in the lineup, then that might be your best bet. However, with the need to play all three of Claesson, DeAngelo, and Pionk, it creates a logjam. There is no perfect solution here.

We know what works, and what doesn’t work. So it’s about tinkering with what may work. Perhaps a stable presence like Claesson will work wonders for Pionk or DeAngelo? Does it make sense to have Shatty drag Staal to the positive side of things?

I know how much we all love to have consistent lines, but when things aren’t working, changes are needed. When things change, it takes a while to find something that works. Seeing as this is a transition year for the Rangers, perhaps it is best to put those players who are important for the future in a position to succeed, and then figure out the rest.

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20 Comments

  1. Step 1 is to get Staal to the pressbox for a game or two. Step 2 is to co-join Staal and Smith. Step 3 is to re-train Tony D and Pionk to understand that defense is their main priority. Step 4 is to explain to all the centers their role on the defensive side of the ice, so they pick up folks open in the slot. I do not see us making any trades, but we might bring up our #1 defender from the AHL if necessary.

    PS – you can’t pair Staal and Pionk and expect anything other than poor defensive positioning at this point.

  2. I don’t know about the need to rearrange the pairings. Perhaps different combinations will work better. However, I am against seeing a lot of McQuaid and Smith. Staal should get some nights off too to rest his legs.

    I believe it makes much more sense for the future of the team to play Pionk, DeAngelo and Claesson. McQuaid and Smith are not the future and although wins are nice, preparing the young defenders of the future is far more important. So, although rotating McQuaid and Smith in for some play is OK in my opinion, regular minutes for those two makes little sense.

  3. It really is more complicated than trying to create good pairs. What is happening with Staal-Pionk is that Staal is cheating on his side to help Pionk and so is trying to do the impossible. Obviously it is not effective. BUT if your goal is to make Pionk the best possible defenseman – and that goal trumps winning games – maybe it is the right way to go. Quinn seems to think it is. I personally have no idea if it is sound or not but the attitude behind Dave’s post is that the Rangers need to assemble their defense to maximize performance and, in a rebuild, that is not the primary goal.

    It isn’t about playing Pionk and ADA; it is about developing them.

    Interestingly, Skjei-Claesson got more PK time last night than Staal-Pionk.

    1. That’s exactly what Quinn is doing. It isn’t about winning now as much as it’s about development. Pionk is the only defenseman who’s outperformed compared to expectation, graduating to top power play over the grossly overpaid Shattenkirk, who’ll never live up to that contract.

      Staal is the best defensive defenseman they have with Claesson right behind the him. They give max effort and make guys pay. The reason you pair Pionk with Staal is to lean on that experience. Tony DeAngelo has been a pleasant surprise compared to the underachieving Skjei, who they overpaid. Metrics dont tell the whole story.

      I’m curious if Quinn will keep Smith in following his strong showing and Skjei sits again.

  4. This post makes reminds me how tough it is to make chicken salad from chicken s***

    The Rangers will hemorrhage shots until the young D on the roster are ready to step up and play a more well rounded, mistake-free game. It’s not easy, but that’s what’s holding the entire org back.

    Stiffs like Staal, Smith, and McQuaid are mere placeholders, there to give the young guys in the AHL time to mature. Management, correctly, doesn’t want to expose all the D prospects currently in the AHL. Calling up Hajek, Crawley, and Lindgren right now isn’t a solution. I guarantee plugging in those three in place of the 3 old hands currently on the blueline will make the Rangers worse. Young D need to be eased into the NHL, and trying to throw a unit of 4 inexperienced D every night plus Skjei and Shatty will not only make things worse, you might destroy the future of some of your prospects as well.

    Keep in mind that the Rangers currently have one of the worst NHL rosters in the league. Take Hank out of the lineup for a month, and the Rangers likely pick up less than 6 points in that time frame. To expect them to consistently play well is kind of unrealistic.

  5. Dave sorry can’t agree with doing anything based upon the charts. We all know that Shatty is no defensive genius and Claesson is ok yet both guys are +. I do agree that Stahl is giving it a go but he will not help any of the new guys as a partner. Brady has been inconsistent therefore he can’t be your best defensemen. These same guys just came off a very good road trip and played well enough to keep us in the game. yes we won some games in shootouts. This is a real work in progress. I’m not sure its the pairs?

  6. I’m not surprised by the stats presented at all. Shattenkirk is underrated. He has a subtle style that generally is not appreciated – he’s very clever with the puck. He is our best dman. Claesson has looked good but it’s such a small sample size so it’s likely not sustainable based on his overall NHL body of work to date.

    Pionk is an awful defenseman; it’s as if he doesn’t know how to play defense. That play were he just stood next to Beauvillier as Beauvillier redirected the puck into the net was unbelievable. Any professional dman would have put his stick on Beauvillier’s stick to prevent it. Pionk has a decent skill set so perhaps he can be coached up but he seems to not even know how to play the position. His decision making and gap control are both poor.

    Skjei & Smith have been up and down. Staal has been pretty good for what he can do. DeAngelo seems promising and is improving.

    All in all though it is a substandard d-core. I also question whether it is a matter of pairings. It just may be that the overall talent level is just not there. I would say that Shattenkirk and Skjei may have 2nd pair ability and the rest 3rd pair level (at this time) – or worse.

  7. I can just imagine what this blog would sound like if they were 7-10-2 instead of 9-8-2 in what is suppose to be a rebuild year. 😉

    1. Hot take: We don’t know what this year is supposed to be, because I’m getting a lot of buzz stating that MSG management wants to make the playoffs this year.

      Which makes the rebuild a sham.

      And last year’s team had the same record as this year before the Isles’ game last night, and remember how that season worked out?

      1. Show me a management team and/or a team of players that don’t want to make the playoffs every year and I’ll show you a bunch of losers. Of course these guys want to do well, you should be worried if they didn’t.

        Re: what this team is suppose to be … a lottery pick team in the Top 5 or thereabouts. That’s what all the pundits said over the summer. We ripped out about 80 goals worth of production and our TOP d’man/captain.

        1. So, just missing the playoffs and getting a pick outside of the top 10 is going to make you happy?

          Not me, it would be a total waste of a season IMO.

          1. Don’t be silly, it’s about how they play and about establishing a culture among the players that won’t accept losing. Where they finish in the standings is irrelevant.

              1. I would assume that by this time next year we’ll “lose” 3-5 players, at most … and they won’t be the younger players that need this type of winning enculturation.

                I don’t think it’s an issue that management wants them to win, but if we see ANY trade that involves sacrificing a good prospect and/or good draft choices for some older player with a year or two left in them, then yes I would be concerned and pissed.

  8. Chytil, Hayes, Smith, ADA, Buch, Claesson, Shattenkirk, and some others all sat due to the coach not happy with their performance or other. Then can someone explain to me why Staal gets a free ride game in and game out? Is it the money, respect or what? It’s mind-numbing.

    1. It’s effort and grit. Staal busts his ass every shift. That kinda leadership is something that’s needed for Pionk and DeAngelo to learn from. Even Skjei, who has been a disappointment in Year 3. That’s why he got scratched. Almost every player who got benched responded with dramatic improvement including Buchnevich and Namestnikov, who both used to stay on the perimeter. It’s too bad Buch got hurt because he was just getting it.

      The only guy who never adjusted was Spooner and he’s gone. Good riddance.

    1. Ah Bobby you just like to stoke the fire don’t ya……………. Actually McIlrath is wearing a letter in Grand Rapids and playing a fairly well rounded game.

  9. Staal and Smith= +6, Staal and Shattenkirk = +6, Staal and Pionk = -12. Skjei and Shattenkirk = +15, Skjei and Pionk = -8, Skjei and DeAngelo = -4. I’m beginning to think that Pionk is dragging Staal down, rather than the other way around.

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