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The Rangers might not need to make a big trade for a defenseman anymore

Bobby Bevilacqua

ryan-mcdonagh-profile-10-23

Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh has been a big part of the team’s good defensive play so far. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Through much of last season and this offseason, the narrative on many Rangers blogs and some beat writers was that the Rangers needed to shake up the defense. They lost Keith Yandle, saw Marc Staal and Dan Girardi regress last year, and didn’t have many in-house options to pick up the slack.

Although it’s been only 11 games, it seems like the Rangers may be in a good situation right now, and won’t have to worry about making a blockbuster trade for anyone right now. If things continue to go well, maybe not even this year.

Through 11 games, the Rangers have allowed just 25 goals and have a +20 differential all while working their way towards an 8-3-0 record. That’s a pretty impressive start for a team that looked to be heading towards a rebuild after the playoff loss to the Penguins last May.

One of the biggest reasons for the quick turnaround is the amazing play of Ryan McDonagh through 10 games, a near historic start with his eight game assist streak and his nine points to start the season. He’s averaging over 24 minutes a night, has been stellar defensively and has found ways to contribute to the offense as well, both at even strength and on the power play. McDonagh’s transition game has improved, whether it’s a breakout pass or carrying it himself up the ice. If he continues to play like this, he might get some Norris Trophy Consideration.

The other big reason is the improvement of the two players seen as liabilities last season; Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. Staal has made a pretty considerable leap and looks a lot more defensively sound and responsible.

Dan Girardi hasn’t made a drastic improvement, but definitely an improvement. Most surprising is the fact that he has four points in seven games, and has matched his goal total from last season with two. He also has a 47.1 individual corsi for percentage and has a positive corsi when paired with Ryan McDonagh. While 47.1 percent might not seem great, it’s about six percent higher than last year’s numbers. Small sample size, but still good. Girardi still sometimes plays the puck like a hand grenade but there have been a few occasions where he’s made a good pass out of the defensive zone, something we rarely saw last season.

Brady Skjei has been a good player on the third pair and is starting to develop the offensive side of his game, with four assists this season. He’s starting to play around 17 to 18 minutes a night consistently, and he provides the team with another good skater who can help the transition game and even set up some plays offensively.

Kevin Klein has been okay, and Nick Holden hasn’t been good. Adam Clendening would be the preferable option but if Holden plays it’s not the end of the world.

While this unit is still going to have their occasional problems and gaffes, they will mostly be good enough for most occasions against a lot of teams. There doesn’t seem to be a reason to panic when they’re on the ice.

Another reason for this is how the forwards have been helping. Despite the inclusion of a lot of young players into the lineup, the defensive play from the forwards has actually improved. They have been doing a much better job of getting back to help the defense, as well as working hard to backcheck and break up plays. That didn’t happen last season at all, and the forwards were coasting at times and not aggressively forechecking or back checking.

And of course, having this kind of an offense takes a lot of pressure off of the defense. The Rangers have scored 16 goals in the last three games and 45 this season. That means they’re always in games and it’s feasible that they can score four goals to win a game. It’s happened pretty often already and the team has shown the ability to be able to come back from deficits.

Let’s just assume that Kevin Shattenkirk is the Rangers theoretical trade target. In that situation, why trade for him now when you could potentially get him for free in the offseason? The Rangers don’t have to unload assets right now for defense when that group is playing well.

With the strides taken by the defensemen and their play, as well as all of the help the forwards are giving them, the Rangers might have a group good enough to make a run in the playoffs this year.

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Posted on November 4, 2016, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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