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Vigneault finally used Yandle properly, and the Rangers were a better team because of it

Bobby Bevilacqua

keith yandle full body 12-6

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

 

When the Rangers fell apart against the Capitals on Sunday, a lot went wrong. The defensive coverage was bad, there were guys open in front of the net, the penalty kill was poor, and there were turnovers. I could go on and on. Needless to say, it was a bad performance from a Rangers team that had been playing much better, even in their losses.

Heading into yesterday’s game, I expected the Rangers to win against a pretty bad Vancouver team that was missing their best player (Henrik Sedin) and because they’ve been alternating wins and losses for a few weeks now. And although they ran into a red-hot Ryan Miller, who stood on his head all night long, they managed to get a win.

If you just looked at the box core, you wouldn’t realize that this was total and utter domination by the Rangers. At even strength, the Rangers led in shot attempts by a massive margin, finishing as a +35 on the night (70-35). They had 36 scoring chances and 17 high danger scoring chances. And they had 49 shots on goal, which isn’t including the six times that they hit the post in the game. If it wasn’t for Ryan Miller, and if they had a bit more luck, this could have easily been a 5+ goal night for New York.

What really made me happy was Vigneault’s usage of Yandle, and how well Yandle played. He had a pretty abysmal game against Washington, and even admitted it himself. But instead of cutting his minutes, Vigneault sent him out for a season-high 23:33, most of it coming at even strength. It was reminiscent of his days in Arizona.

Maybe it was because some of the other defenseman were feeling under the weather, something AV alluded to before the game (Staal only played 14:47). Or maybe it was because Vigneault decided to try something new out. But either way, it worked.

It’s not a coincidence that more ice time for Yandle, including more shifts with the top two lines, led to an increased offensive output from the Rangers. And it’s not just more ice time, it’s quality ice time too. Usually I’m ripping my hair out because AV is sending him out with the fourth line and not utilizing his skills. But yesterday he got a lot of time with guys like Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, and on the tying goal in the third period, with Mats Zuccarello.

His pass on Zuccarello’s goal was picture perfect, and it’s just an example of what he’s capable of doing when on the ice with skilled players. Viktor Stalberg had one of his best games in a while, using his speed to burst up the ice and coming very close to scoring on two occasions. And it was partially due to Yandle’s distribution skills and ability to spring him up the ice.

People often complain that he isn’t a good defender. And while he’s certainly not a shutdown defender, he’s not bad to the point where it hurts his team often. And there’s no doubt that he helps the Rangers far more than he may hurt them.

He’ll have his occasional turnovers, sure, but so has everyone else on the team. Girardi and Staal have been the victim of far worse turnovers that have led to goals. Remember Girardi’s assist to Alex Ovechkin?

Yandle can play defense. He makes some good plays along the boards, and on odd man rushes, he never sprawls out on the ice and makes snow angels like some of his counterparts. He’s not “defensively-deficient” as Larry Brooks put it.

It may sound odd, but isn’t offense the best defense? What’s the best way to prevent shot attempts and scoring chances from the other team?

I would argue that you do that best by keeping the puck in the other team’s zone. Yesterday’s game against the Canucks is the perfect example. The Rangers weren’t outstanding defensively. In fact, they made a terrible play on Alex Burrow’s goal.

But what they did best was keep the puck in Vancouver’s zone for what felt like the entire game. That’s why the Canucks didn’t have a lot of chances. It’s because they never had the puck. And Yandle was a huge reason why. He owned the puck, made some remarkable passes and facilitated offense.

His transition game is also fantastic, and it allows him to start the Rangers rushes and start building up offense. He knows how to maneuver himself and the puck away from forecheckers, and he knows how to make outlet passes out of his own zone that guys like Staal and Girardi struggle to make. That’s his biggest asset.

With all of the trade talk surrounding Yandle, he’s done a good job of focusing on his game and playing well. And despite what some people say about him being dissatisfied with his role in New York, but he said otherwise.

“As soon as I got traded here I was all in, my family was all in,” Yandle told reporters Tuesday morning. “My life, the day-to-day situation I’m in is great. I have a lot of fun coming to the rink. I try not to listen to (the rumors), but it happens every year with different names. It’s something (for the media) to talk about. I love my situation here, though. I love playing here, being here.”

He’ll likely get a raise from his current $5.25 million salary after this season, and rightfully so. But let’s compare the situation to Mats Zuccarello last year.

Based on his underlying metrics and his stats, complemented by what we saw on the ice, it’s safe to say that he is worth more than the $4.5 million he signed for. But Zuccarello took a hometown discount because he loved playing in New York. If Yandle really loves playing in New York and wants to say, maybe he could also take a bit of a discount.

The Rangers will have Boyle’s $4.5 million come off the books. But Dominic Moore is a UFA after this season, and he’s turning 35. Will they sign him to another deal? Or will his $1.5 million come off of the books? That’s $6 million free, enough to sign Yandle for sure. And if he takes a discount, the Rangers could sign a cheap fourth line center or play Lindberg there next year. There’s a way to make it work.

But coming back to this season, the Rangers need Yandle to play like he did yesterday on an everyday basis. And Alain Vigneault needs to start using him more frequently. Because if Yandle keeps getting 22+ minutes of ice time with quality shifts, the Rangers will be better offensively, and a better team overall.

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Posted on January 20, 2016, in In the Crease, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. sick or not, staal needs to play less and/or get traded if he will agree. i would almost want to say buy him out and take the hit if you have to so we can keep yandle. mcdounagh or yandle, one of them should always be on the ice imo

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