The New York Rangers are struggling. Nobody is debating that. The Rangers are 2-5-2 on a season that was filled with a tremendous amount of hope. This struggle can be attributed to a variety of reasons: awful coaching, bad defensive hockey, or yes, even spotty goaltending by future Hall of Famer Henrik Lundqvist. But, the main problem is the defense.
Interestingly enough though, the issue is not with the capability of the defense but rather the way this defense is used. The Rangers are a team that is filled with multiple defensemen that are not two way players.
Kevin Shattenkirk, the free agency prize of the New York Rangers, is a horrific defensive player, that is something that is very easy to tell. He has had over 25 turnovers and is a -5 rating through 9 games. Now, Shattenkirk is an unbelievable puck carrier, superb Power Play quarterback and and all around great offensive defenseman, but he is not Brent Burns.
He has his weaknesses, and this can be fixed by pairing him with somebody that will not only cover him in the defensive zone but, with somebody that is on a similar level of skill to Shattenkirk.
This player is captain Ryan McDonagh. Ryan McDonagh, who also exhibits weaknesses and makes poor decisions from time to time, is the optimal partner for a man like Kevin Shattenkirk. This line change would lead to a great top defensive line for the Rangers.
The two would be a lethal pairing because of their skating abilities, puck possession skills and overall offensive awareness. This would be the duo you would want on the ice, down one, in the offensive zone at the end of a game.
While the two started on a line together at the beginning of the year, they were immediately split up when the two began to struggle together. Their struggles were simply growing pains in the process of gaining chemistry with each other, but Alain Vigneault didn’t see it this way and split them up immediately.
McDonagh and Shattenkirk should be the top defensive pairing of the New York Rangers. They may make bad decisions and have their fair share of errors together, but they need to be given the opportunity obtain gain chemistry with each other; in order to succeed you must get to know your line-mate, his tendencies and his weaknesses.
Next on the second defensive unit was the popular and effective tandem of Bredan Smith and Brady Skjei. Skjei, the 6’3 offensive beast and Smith, the gritty yet skilled blue collar defenseman that was acquired by the Rangers late last season. These two players that proved themselves last season with brilliant postseasons.
Skjei and Smith showed chemistry, coupled with a lethal two way approach that was even worthy of top line minutes last season. They know each other well on the ice, and flourished when they were placed together.
Despite a brilliant 39 point rookie campaign and almost immaculate post-season by Skjei and a surprisingly effective and solid presence by former Detroit Red Wing Brendan Smith, the two have struggled to start the season.
They, like everyone else, need time. Skjei is experiencing the difficulties of a typical of a player in his sophomore season. Simultaneously Smith is making bad decisions all over the ice, such as pinching at the wrong times, and turning the puck over constantly. These two did not have fluke seasons last year, they are great defensemen. Continue pairing them together and the Rangers will succeed.
This is where the bulk of the issues reside, the third pairing. Try to name a more notorious duo than Marc Staal and Nick Holden…I’ll wait.
These two have been a severe detriment to the Rangers over the past year. The scenario associated with them is one minute and thirty seconds of sustained pressure by the opposing team in the defensive zone. They make bad decisions, are slow and simply are not a good paring together.
Thankfully, Holden is starting to lose ice time game by game. We may be stuck with Marc Staal, but this can be turned into an effective third pairing.
The core of the Derek Stepan deal was not the seventh overall pick; it was the acquisition of a skilled, young right-handed defensemen in Anthony Deangelo. This kid, while showing issues on the defensive end himself, is a far better player than Nick Holden, and he has a great amount of potential.
Deangelo’s defensive issues could be covered up on a paring with Staal, who is seemingly rejuvenated Marc Staal to start the season. Deangelo can look for outlet passes and breaks out of the defensive zone while Staal takes a back seat and plays defense the way he has always played it: with a stay at home type of approach. The two can flourish in their roles while providing the Rangers with a third defensive pairing that has quite a bit of punch.
Of course, all of these pairings are merely hypothetical, they have all been used and broken apart already in this young season, but they have proved to be effective. If the Head Coach, Vigneault allows these players to stay in these roles for four or five games, you will see a tremendous difference and the New York Rangers will start to win games.
The primary issue on the year is the defense. This is, again, is not because of their abilities, but because of bad deployment. Last season, the lineup was filled with defensemen who were decent defensively, but slow, unskilled, and broken.
This season, the defense is skilled and fast but unable to play defense! The topic of the issue is the same, the specifics are simply different. This needs to change and soon.
AV, deploy these pairings and you will see a profound difference in the play of the defense. Please!!