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Keith Yandle, Kevin Klein solidifying a struggling defensive corps

Bobby Bevilacqua

kevin klein full body profile 10-25

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

With a group consisting of Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, I don’t think anyone expected Kevin Klein and Keith Yandle to be the best defensemen on both sides of the puck through 11 games.

I will gladly eat my words when it comes to Kevin Klein. Along with a good amount of other writers, I was pretty convinced that Klein had a fluke offensive season, and although he was solid defensively, he was a third pair defensemen at best. Gorton would be able to easily replace him and they should ship him out while his value is highest.

Well it turns out that Kevin Klein is shaping up to be a $2.9 million top pairing defenseman that has been the most reliable in his own zone, as well as being the best at driving possession. Who would have guessed it?

I’ve always been a big fan and supporter of Keith Yandle as well, and the only thing that stopped me from buying his jersey is an expiring contract. Yandle has lived up to his offensive potential and hype so far, tallying a goal and five assists through the first 11 games, which makes him on pace for 45 points.

While that’s a little less than expected from a typical Yandle season, that’s still a very good number for a defenseman, and the most by a Rangers defenseman since Tom Poti tallied 48 in the 2002-03 season. Also, as players like Rick Nash and Chris Kreider start to produce, and the power play comes to life, Yandle’s numbers will improve. A 50 point season surely isn’t out of question.

What’s even more impressive is that Yandle has been nowhere near a liability on defense. Actually, he’s been pretty good in that aspect of his game. Sure, there have been a few turnovers, but that’s happened with everyone so far. While players like Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, counted on for tough defensive assignments, have struggled, Yandle has been steady.

keith yandle full body 10-22

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

When looking at the advanced statistics, Klein and Yandle are leading the way there too. In fact, Klein and Yandle lead the team when it comes to driving puck possession, with a 54.71% and a 53.27% corsi for, respectively.

Klein has never been a superb possession player, so this start, as well as last season, comes as a bit of a surprise. But he’s been so, so good this year, despite recording just one point, that it’s hard to say it’s a fluke anymore. He’s improved under Vigneault, grown into a two-dimensional threat, will get more chances on the power play, and has arguably been the best defenseman on the team so far.

Yandle has always been a great possession player, and that trend is continuing this year. Despite being paired with Dan Girardi (40.96% corsi for), Yandle has still had a positive impact on possession, creating scoring chances with his passing and flinging the puck on net when the shot is there. His ability to outlet the puck and use his skating fits perfectly into Vigneault’s system.

With Klein and Yandle holding down the fort on the back end, that creates some worry for the rest of the defensive corps. Dan Girardi has really, really struggled at times this year, missing assignments and giving up high danger scoring chances. Ryan McDonagh hasn’t looked like himself at all, with just one point and a lot of shaky play. Marc Staal and Dan Boyle have been okay.

If it wasn’t for Yandle and Klein, on top of the great goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta, the Rangers 7-2-2 record would have been much harder to attain. Direct your criticism elsewhere.

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Posted on November 2, 2015, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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