The New York Rangers completed their first 50 games of the season. Let’s break it down.
1. Since our last check-in, the Rangers went 5-5, with a -3 goal differential (34 goals against, 31 goals for). In that stretch, New York won a game 1-0, lost a game 7-6, came back from down 4-1, and blew a lead going into the third period. It was as topsy turvy as a ten game stretch the Rangers played all season.
The major concern from the numbers is in the 34 goals against. Surrendering 3.4 goals against with Henrik Lundqvist as the starting goalie is unacceptable. We have beaten to death whether or not Lundqvist is to blame for that number, but it cannot continue like this moving forward.
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This team needs defensive help, and not in the form of one defenseman or two defensemen. This team needs a total defensive makeover. 7-6 and 6-1 games cannot happen.
Quick bonus thought added last minute: the Rangers must stop making comebacks if they aren’t going to complete them. After nearly coming back from down 7-3 to Dallas and 6-0 against Columbus, they were lauded both times for their resiliency.
Resiliency is only important for mental reasons. In the standings, a four goal loss is as bad as a one goal loss. Alain Vigneault is enabled to not make changes by the Rangers coming back. Vigneault can point to the resiliency and the scoreboard and say the team figured things out.
The Rangers must play 60 minute games. 10 strong minutes do not negate the 50 weak minutes. Resiliency is nice, but resiliency can also be dangerous when misunderstood.
2. With that, going 5-5 was perfect. It disgusts me to say that, but that’s how it is in the current NHL playoff format. The best thing the Rangers can do is win enough games to earn the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, but lose enough not to advance past that seed.
Should the Rangers get the seventh seed, their road to the Stanley Cup would go through the Montreal Canadiens, then one of the Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators, or Toronto Maple Leafs, then a Metropolitan Division opponent that just battled powerhouses in consecutive rounds.
Montreal is hardly an easy opponent, but there is no scenario in which it makes any sense for the Rangers to play in the Metropolitan Division bracket. The New York Islanders purposely took the seventh seed last season to play in the Atlantic bracket. It’s time for the Rangers to do the same.
3. Through 19 games played, Adam Clendening’s Corsi For Percentage sits at 55.2% at even strength. I’m not ready to deem him the defenseman of the future, but at what point does the sample size stop being too small?
Kevin Klein is a disaster on skates, and Dan Girardi is the least valuable player in the NHL today. We know this, I won’t pound this into your brain anymore. But for the Rangers to sit Clendening at all down the stretch would be an indictment of everyone involved in the decision making. That means Alain Vigneault, but also Jeff Gorton. The defense is bad enough as is. Play the best players.
With that, I’d like to see Ryan Graves get a chance to play. He may be in over his head, but as a stopgap until a Cody Franson-type is acquired, he would be a nice fit.
Ryan McDonagh-Brady Skjei
Marc Staal-Nick Holden
Adam Clendening-Ryan Graves
Shelter the third pair, play the first pair for as close to 60 minutes as you can, give Dan Girardi the wrong location to the game. It’s the best that can be done with the current roster.
4. As the Trade Deadline nears, let’s remember that the Rangers top target was Cam Atkinson until Eric Staal became available. New York abandoned their plan because Eric is related to Marc, but this tells me two things.
One, this further confirms to me that Jeff Gorton is terrific at identifying forward talent. Atkinson was not the star forward he is today at the point the Rangers were interested, and he would have been a coup by the then-rookie GM.
Secondly, Jeff Gorton is not flawless. Gorton took the “easy” way out by acquiring a player that only wanted to play for the Rangers, a flashy move, but one that received little backlash from the mainstream media because of the last name. Gorton is not flawless at forward, nor is he immune to silly moves for the sake of making moves.
This Trade Deadline will tell us plenty about Gorton. Does he understand where this team stands? Does he understand the defense is the problem? We will find out. A bit terrifying.
5. The 3 on 3 All Star Game was phenomenal once again, but it only furthered my astronomically high level of respect for Ryan McDonagh. It was an exhibition game, yes, but Wayne Gretzky picked McDonagh to play with Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. Re-read that sentence. Wayne Gretzky chose Ryan McDonagh.
Of course Gretzky was not a phenomenal coach for the then-Phoenix Coyotes, but the man knows his hockey.
Steering away from the All-Star Game, McDonagh deserves far more credit than he is given for for this season. McDonagh has played the majority of the season with the worst defenseman in the NHL, yet has still put up 26 assists.
More importantly, McDonagh is the only legitimate top four defenseman on the roster right now. Arguments can be made for Nick Holden and Brady Skjei, but they both would be best served as third pair defensemen considering Holden’s turnovers and Skjei’s need for development.
The New York Rangers are comfortably in a playoff spot, and Ryan McDonagh is the only legitimate top four defenseman on the roster. If you take him off the team, the entire defense would be made up of third pair defensemen.
Not only is McDonagh the most valuable player on the team, but considering where the team would be without him (just think about that defense….my goodness….) he is one of the most valuable players in the NHL.
Just look at it this way: where would the Rangers be without McDonagh? Not many players’ absences would tank their respective teams’ performances. McDonagh is one of those players.
McDonagh may not have the strongest possession numbers, but he is as good as it gets. Speaking as a fan, I cannot wait for the day he is paired with a serviceable NHL defenseman. The team will benefit from it tremendously, and the beast will be unleashed.