Defense was a hallmark of the 2011-2012 New York Rangers. It was arguably the key ingredient in their run to the Eastern Conference Finals. They had an unwavering commitment to shot-blocking and solid play in their own end. Even without a ton of roster turnover, the unit was not as proficient as they were last season, but still had a solid campaign overall. Let’s look at the individual contributions of each blue liner…
McDonagh experienced a slight drop off from his 2011-2012 form, but overall showed off a much more well-rounded game. Although his point totals remained very similar to last season, he showed an increased willingness to jump up into the play and be more involved in the offense. He still plays a top-notch, shutdown defensive game and can eat workhorse minutes. As his offensive game improves, he could develop into a Norris level defenseman. Let’s not forget, he’s only 24. A-
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When news broke yesterday of Roman Josi’s new contract with the Nashville Predators ($28 million over 7 years), focus immediately shifted to Ryan McDonagh. After all, McDonagh and Josi are very comparable players. They are both coming off their ELCs. They are both top-pairing defensemen. They are both arbitration eligible. Most importantly, they are both likely to receive some attention on the RFA market.
However, that is where the similarities end. Josi has just one lockout-shortened full season, and 52 games in his rookie year last year. He has put up lines of 5-11-16 and 5-13-18 in each of those seasons respectively. Meanwhile, McDonagh has an extra full season under his belt, and has a 30 point season as well. On paper, McDonagh is the more credentialed defenseman.
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Photo by Joe Makarski, Bruins Daily.
As some of you may have noticed, the Rangers were awful on the power play again in 2013.
One of the simple fixes suggested by many has been to bring in a guy with a cannon point shot. That’d be a nice luxury to have, but the truth is that there are very few players in the league as effective at Zdeno Chara at
breaking Ryan Callahan’s limbs calmly holding the blueline in the offensive zone while intermittently directing 100+ mph slappers through traffic at enemy goalies. New York has no one capable of doing that – in fact Dan Girardi probably has the hardest shot on the team, which is likely the sole reason John Tortorella has stubbornly deployed him on the man advantage in recent years – but few teams do.
Give me a puck mover like Boston has apparently found in Torey Krug over that point blast any day. Krug may have just enjoyed the best five-game stretch of his career, but he also single-handedly transformed one of the few power plays in the league worse than the Rangers into a high octane unit that converted 33% of its chances against the world’s best goalie. The Bruins already had Chara’s legendary rocket, but it was Krug’s heat-seeking shot, speed, decisiveness and poise with the puck that gave the Bruins a new dimension. Read more »
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America
One of the oldest adages of hockey is that to win games, you must stay out of the penalty box. Nothing revolutionary there, it makes sense that you don’t want to give your opponent too many chances to outnumber you on the ice.
It will certainly ring true in Round One, when the Rangers face Washington’s #1 ranked power play, which converted at a 26.8% rate this season. The Blueshirts must continue to play disciplined hockey, but that could be tricky; Washington’s offense isn’t just a handful on the power play, the Capitals rank fourth overall in offense and possess the league’s hottest scorer, the resurgent Alex Ovechkin.
You might have heard that Ovechkin was left for dead and then came roaring back with 27 goals in his final 32 games to end up leading the league. Unsurprisingly, Ovechkin did his most damage on the power play, where he netted 16 goals, a ridiculous six more than the league’s second-most productive player, Steven Stamkos. Read more »
Brandon Mashinter was returned to the AHL this morning after playing four games for the Rangers. Mash finished with a -2 rating, 7 hits, and 1 blocked shot in extremely limited playing time. Returning Mash to the AHL leaves the Rangers with 11 forwards, so it is likely that Rick Nash, the player who was on IR, will be reactivated for tomorrow’s game.
Speaking of Nash, he participated in practice today in a full-contact jersey. Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto also participated in practice, also with full-contact jerseys.
Great news this morning as Rick Nash is on the ice for practice, per Pat Leonard. Nash is also in a contact jersey
, which hopefully means he will be playing tonight. Leonard also noted that Ryan McDonagh is not on the ice this morning, and neither is Marc Staal. Staal is probably just off for maintenance, but McDonagh is likely still feeling the effects of that Max Pacioretty hit that didn’t warrant a suspension.
Even though McDonagh isn’t out there, let’s focus on the good news that Nash is back.
No, Girardi and Staal are not brothers. They are elite defensemen.
The Rangers may have leaked goals in bunches at times this year and may have been, at best ‘rusty and inconsistent’, to begin the year. That said, the Rangers blueline – at least the top end – has been at the very heart of why the Rangers are back on the winning trail. With Dan Girardi and Marc Staal leading the way (and Ryan McDonagh getting back to previous form) do the Rangers have a Norris trophy candidate?
In a shortened season points surely can’t be the sole measuring stick of a Norris candidate, and if the best defenseman award goes to, well, the best defenseman then the Rangers could be in the mix for the award. With Erik Karlsson unfortunately out for the season due to a nasty injury and Nicklas Lidstrom working on his golf handicap, two of the main front runners are no longer in the running. With Shea Weber playing beneath the level of hockey we have been accustomed to – missing Ryan Suter by any chance? – there’s certainly an opening for a new winner.
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Do you own a pair of skates? Give Glen a call, you could be of help!
Yesterday we discussed how the Rangers may eventually look outside of the organisation for help on the blueline. Unless you think Stu Bickel, Matt Gilroy or Steve Eminger are the answer then it’s perhaps inevitable that the Rangers are on the lookout. Of course, this is assuming team brass do not want Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh on the ice every other shift. So, with other teams such as the Red Wings signing viable alternatives such as Kent Huskins already, who’s still out there that could help?
The Rangers decision to bring in another defenseman will depend on what the Rangers want from their last pair. The options from either a free agent or trade perspective are limited, but there are some intriguing options, both defensive and offensively.
From the unemployed pool, Campoli would likely be the most expensive, but at this stage of an abbreviated season, anyone looking for work isn’t likely to make dollars a major stumbling block. The former Islander has likely plenty of gas left in the tank, but has been injury plagued in recent times. What makes him appealing for the Rangers is that he only costs dollars. Given the issues with moving the puck out of the zone, Campoli could help given that he’s a solid puck mover. If it’s offense and mobility the Rangers are after, then Campoli is the best of the rest at this stage.
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There’ll be plenty of celebration this season, despite the slow start
Here’s an interesting statistic I read after the Pittsburgh loss: The Rangers will play their 48 games in 99 days. Last year they played their final 48 games in 100 days. Basically there is no great concern or big deal to be made of the compressed schedule. There will also be sufficient practice time.
The Rangers managed to win the Atlantic Division last year and came mighty close to winning the President’s Trophy. How they achieved last year’s success was on the back of a stingy, hard working defense providing Lundqvist with the platform to play to his Vezina winning standards. They also evidenced in the second half of last year an ability to adjust to their opponents styles – something that practice time will help achieve.
This season – all two games of it – the defense has been awful. Poor coverage, players guilty of chasing the puck and not remembering their positional duties and poor zone exits, not to mention a poor first pass; the defense has done precious little right thus far. That said, look at the players that make up the Rangers blueline. Marc Staal can still be forgiven for needing a few more games to get back up to his best but is a quality defenseman, particularly in his own zone.
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We know Ryan McDonagh is back in the US and we know Carl Hagelin has terminated his deal with his hometown team back in Sweden. We also know Rick Nash has had his own injury issues despite scoring at an impressive rate in Switzerland. It goes without saying that the NHL is the best league in the world when they’re actually playing hockey. So why then are so many Rangers players struggling to adapt to playing in inferior leagues with inferior players?
Rick Nash aside, and perhaps Hagelin – although in Sweden’s second tier, don’t forget – no Ranger has exactly set the world alight in Europe thus far. In one way it’s hard to be overly critical. After all with little practice time, familiarisation to their clubs, their leagues’ playing style and teammates and a lack of long term perspective (given the short term deals struck with clubs) there isn’t a great basis for success for players heading to Europe.
Again, to be fair it’s not just Rangers players that have failed to make a significant impact. For example Ilya Bryzgalov hasn’t exactly got his game back on track in the KHL, Evander Kane suffered a torrid time in Russia while Max Paciorettey had a miserable time in Europe and came back at the first opportunity following a somewhat bitter divorce with his Euro employers.
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