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The Rangers have some MAJOR flaws, and it starts with the defense

Bobby Bevilacqua

Data courtesy of war-on-ice.com.

Looking at this chart hurts.

It’s really odd to be extremely worried about the play of the Rangers, a team with 16 wins, 34 points and the fourth best record in the league. But the truth is that this team is playing really poorly, and they’re miraculously exceeding what the numbers suggest should happen.

But it may not be that way for long.

Last night, the Rangers lost their third consecutive game in regulation, the first time that has happened since October of 2014. They lost to the Flyers, ranked 21st in the league, and were shutout by Steve Mason, who had a GAA of over 3.00 and a save percentage under .910 coming into this game.

They’ve had just five games this season with a more scoring chances than the opposition, rarely finish with more possession than the other team, and have just one player with a corsi for rating of over 50% (Keith Yandle).

Antti Raanta was the only player who performed like he needed to yesterday. The Finnish netminder made 31 saves and had his first regulation loss on home ice in his NHL career. He deserved much better than that.

antti raanta side profile by boards 11-25

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

In fact, the goalies are the only players that have been consistently performing, except for Mats Zuccarello. But Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta have been phenomenal. Looking at the chart with the scoring chance percentage, it’s a miracle that the Rangers don’t surrender three or four goals a game. Even AV admitted the situation they’re in.

The matter of fact is that the Rangers have 16 wins in large part to their goaltending. No, the defense is not elite. Henrik Lundqvist is, and in his five starts so far, Antti Raanta has been too.

Let’s start with the defense, which for the most part, has been awful. And no it has not been Keith Yandle or Dan Boyle making the biggest mistakes and hurting the team. It has been the so-called “shutdown” defenders. Coming into yesterday’s game, when Dan Girardi and Marc Staal were on the ice, they had a corsi for% of 25.5, an 88.46 corsi against per 60 minutes, a zero goals for percentage, and 3.64 goals against per sixty minutes.

Vigneault and the Rangers rely on them to be tasked with the toughest assignments, squaring off against the best players on each team, but they’ve done a bad job. The Rangers have just 25% of the shot attempts while these two are on the ice, no goals, and the opposition tends to score quite a bit when Staal and Girardi play. How are they “shutdown” or elite defenders?

Girardi’s numbers are better when he plays with McDonagh, but that’s because McDonagh is doing enough work for the two of them. However, he hasn’t been that good either. This Ryan McDonagh is a far cry from the 43 point, 14 goal Ryan McDonagh during the 2013-14 season.

Staal and Girardi just aren’t working well in Vigneault’s system. They can’t make outlet passes, often turning the puck over at the blue line, a mistake McDonagh makes occasionally as well. They go to the ice really early to try and defend, and they’re all out of position on a lot of plays. The amount of wide open shots Lundqvist has had to defend is absurd.

Dylan McIlrath has played in each of the last two games, and a total of six this season. It’s been a small sample size, but he hasn’t allowed many high percentage shots. Yandle and McIlrath have been a great pairing together too.

The other problem on defense is a coaching problem. Keith Yandle doesn’t get near the amount of ice time he got in Arizona, which is a big reason why he has ‘only’ 12 points in 24 games. Amazingly, Yandle also doesn’t play on the first power play unit, despite being one of the best point men on the man advantage in the NHL. He moves the puck exactly as Vigneault’s system requires, drives possession and creates chances, and scores points. Play him.

It’s time for AV to realize the flaws on the blue line. It doesn’t matter who is the alternate captain or who makes the most money. Yandle and McIlrath, as well as Kevin Klein, should get more ice time and Girardi and Staal should get less, because the former are much more effective when they’re out there.

And rather than scratching Boyle for McIlrath simply because he’s older and supposedly needs the rest, scratch whoever isn’t playing well. If Staal or Girardi are stinking it up, sit them. Send a message. Or relegate them to the third pairing and play them in sheltered minutes. Because giving them tough assignments isn’t doing the Rangers any good.

Some of the forwards have been underperforming as well too, namely Chris Kreider. After scoring 21 goals in the regular season and another seven in the playoffs, the fourth year winger has just one goal in his past 10 games, and two in his last 16, and he’s on pace for 10 goals this season. He hasn’t been reliable, and when he doesn’t score, he hasn’t been noticeable on the ice.

JT Miller, Emerson Etem and Viktor Stalberg have all be serviceable, but nobody has been able to step up and take the scoring role left vacant by the retired Martin St. Louis. With Chris Kreider underperforming and Derek Stepan out for the foreseeable future, that’s a major problem. And since prospect Pavel Buchnevich can’t join the NHL until around February, a trade may be necessary to build some consistency.

For the most part, the offense and forwards can’t be complained about. They’ve scored a lot, and this team is deeper than the one Sather fielded last season. But the problem was their PDO, which predicts the amount of ‘luck’ a team has on the ice when it comes to scoring.

Due to their absurdly high 5v5 save percentage and shooting percentage, the Rangers were winning games like the ones against Nashville and Florida, where they’re outshot by a lot but score on their few chances. Like Vigneault said, they’re a product of their goaltending.

The Rangers aren’t going to keep winning if they get outshot, play bad defense and rely way too heavily of Lundqvist and Raanta. It’s not a recipe for success. They may be able to get past teams like the Blue Jackets or Oilers, but when they face more competitive teams like the Canadiens and the Stars in the future, they’ll get ripped to shreds playing like this.

The stats and numbers predicted regression and flaws, and now the cracks are starting to show. And like Vigneault said, he needs to get this team playing better. Fast.

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Posted on November 29, 2015, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. the defense is only going to get worse. this is what happens when you give long term deals to older players and now your stuck. did we think they were going to get better because we paid them more ? the only place they could go is down………..next year will be a nightmare

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