How should Alain Vigneault utilize Dan Girardi? Or should he?

Bobby Bevilacqua


Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Last night in my recap of the Rangers’ win over the Arizona Coyotes, I wrote that it was a mixed bag of performances from some of the players. Guys like Matt Puempel, Nick Holden and Kevin Hayes had fantastic games, but in reality, the Rangers let one of the worst teams in the league stick around and almost win.

Part of that had to do with the defensive effort. There were some bad bounces, like on Anthony Duclair’s goal, but there was also just bad coverage and decision making throughout the night.

In the Rangers’ win over the Ottawa Senators, Dan Girardi had one of his worst games of the season. This came after Alain Vigneault said that starting him on the top pairing was a “no doubt” decision because of the two player’s “history together” and because Girardi is effective when he’s “making his reads” and “moving his feet.” But he was way out of position on the first Ottawa goal, had countless turnovers, and struggled with his passing.

Last night was much of the same. Girardi was way out of position on Tobias Reider’s goal, struggled to maintain possession and hit his passes, and looked a bit behind at times. This was with him on the third pairing alongside Brady Skjei, a pairing that was ineffective and struggled throughout the night. It was particularly worrying because Girardi was getting sheltered minutes on the third pairing and still had one of his worst games of the year. Sean Hartnett did a good job writing about the defensive issues and Girardi’s struggles.

In case you were wondering, Kevin Klein skated with Ryan McDonagh and Staal stayed with Nick Holden.

It’s something that I’ve been saying for quite a while, but Dan Girardi just isn’t that effective anymore. This isn’t me saying that he can’t play or anything like that, but his minutes and role need to be greatly reduced. He’s a step behind because of his lack of speed, sometimes he cheats towards the boards to make up for that which winds up leaving other players open. That happened last night during the Coyotes game.

Kevin DeLury at Broadway Boozeshirts Blog sarcastically “defended” Dan Girardi in his recap last night using gifs, which you can see HERE. It’s a great example of things that go wrong a lot of the time with him. (Also check out his site for great recaps and excellent insight with some humor as well. Great blogger)

Playing Girardi on the top pairing just isn’t working. His lack of speed and tendency to be out of position or a step behind puts an extraordinary amount of pressure on Ryan McDonagh and drags down his play. Because McDonagh has to compensate for Girardi on defense, and winds up becoming limited offensively as well.

Last night showed that Alain Vigneault can’t throw him on the third pairing with Brady Skjei either, because that just doesn’t work out. As talented and promising as he is, Skjei is still learning and adapting to the league in his first full season, and having Girardi with him isn’t helping.

So what should Alain Vigneault do with his $5.5 million veteran defenseman?

Playing him on the top pair shouldn’t be the choice, because it limits what Ryan McDonagh can do on a game-to-game basis and Girardi isn’t good enough or fast enough to defend against other team’s top players. And playing him with a rookie hasn’t worked either. You also really don’t want to play him with Marc Staal, because that would be pairing two defensive-defenseman who aren’t particularly good in terms of possession or the transition game.

First off, Vigneault needs to follow up on his statement and actually rest Dan Girardi every few games. At the beginning of the year, he said that Girardi would be sitting in the second game of back-to-backs to give him some rest. He did that for exactly one game. It’s not fair to Adam Clendening, who is stuck in the press box, and it’s not fair to Girardi, who could clearly use a rest.

Clendening isn’t the answer and won’t solve the team’s biggest issues, but his passing skills and power play ability could really help out some nights. He’s earned a bit more playing time than what he has received. I would like to see him rotate in more regularly for Girardi and maybe Klein as well, but I don’t think he’s a full time answer. Scratching your $5.5 million defenseman and a locker room favorite for good wouldn’t be a good look either.

Here’s what I would do. There’s no doubt that the most effective partner with Ryan McDonagh has been Nick Holden. Holden has been a pleasant surprise this year and has already hit 20 points (7-13-20). When Holden and McDonagh played together, the Rangers’ captain recorded the longest point streak of his career and was playing well on both sides of the ice. Now that Holden has become acclimated to the Rangers system and is playing very well, reuniting that pairing would make for the most effective top pairing AV could make with what he has.

Unfortunately, that means that it would leave Girardi to play with either Staal or Skjei. Not ideal, but that’s what would have to be done in order to make a very strong top pairing.

If you’re going for balance, than Brady Skjei should get some time on the top pairing. While he is still young and developing, Skjei has shown some incredible potential and has the tools to be a top-four defenseman for years to come. His skating and transition ability would complement McDonagh well. In the playoffs against the Penguins, Vigneault used the pairing of McDonagh and Skjei against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it worked extremely well. Larry Brooks from the New York Post also wrote about how Skjei deserves a promotion to the top pairing, so I’m not the only one saying this.

With that as your top pairing, you could go one of two ways with the other pairings. Skjei on the top pair means you could keep the highly successful Marc Staal-Nick Holden pairing together, but it could create a disastrous third pair with Klein and Girardi together and one of them playing on their off side. If that’s not an option, Marc Staal could play with Kevin Klein and Nick Holden would partner with Dan Girardi in a third pairing role.

I’m tempted to go with the first choice because it would give you two very strong pairings (27-76, 18-22) and a third pairing that could receive highly sheltered minutes. But if it’s balance you’re looking for, a defensive group of McDonagh-Skjei, Staal-Klein, Holden-Girardi is probably the way to go.

Either way, Alain Vigneault has to do something different to get the most out of Girardi. He struggles in a top pairing role, had a rough game last night against an awful team while getting sheltered minutes, and is becoming more and more of a detriment. If Vigneault wants to save face and get the most out of his favorite veteran defenseman, than it starts by optimizing the defensive pairings.


Posted on December 30, 2016, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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