Rangers v Senators - Game 2 - Ranger Defensemen
Photo: Jason Kopinski/Icon Sportswire
The Rangers increased their even strength contributions by 3.9% in game two, but their overall contributions rose by nearly 40% due to increased special team performance.
On the penalty kill, they scored two short-handed goals and gave up none, and on the power play they officially ended 0 for 4, but Skjei’s second period tally was only a few seconds after Senators Zack Smith returned to the ice.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, the good stuff was wiped out by a late game defensive melt down, allowing the Senators to score two late goals and win in overtime.
Ranger fans must feel like they are in familiar territory as round one against the Canadiens had its share of challenges, with the focus again on Ranger defensemen.
A quick look at the Ranger blue line through eight games:
Ryan McDonagh is leading the group and performing 22.5% above his season average.
Dan Girardi is second at 46% above his regular season average, with most of his increase due to higher defensive contributions.
Brady Skjei just edged ahead of Marc Staal into the third spot after Skjei’s two goal performance in game two.
Nick Holden and Brendan Smith occupy the fifth and sixth spots.
Allan Vingeaut is taking some heat for not playing Smith and Skjei more in the third period of game two. Right or wrong?
After seven playoff games, the Rangers blueline is defensively split down the middle (no pun intended), with, McDonagh, Girardi, and Staal all performing above their regular season defensive contributions. The remaining Ranger defensemen are performing the same or below their regular season averages.
It is no surprise the Rangers are lacking a reliable fourth defenseman, especially to lock down leads.
Why does Holden often draw into that fourth spot when he has the lowest play-by-play defensive performance of all Ranger defensemen? Likely because he rates as the third best Ranger defenseman offensively, and the theory is, the better puck movers spend less time playing defense. For the theory to work, that offensive defenseman must avoid major mistakes, otherwise the advantage is squandered.
On that note, Holden makes the most bad defensive mistakes, and Skjei is second best in that measurement (makes the second fewest bad defensive mistakes).
Currently, Skjei is the strongest defensively of the bottom three, but does that change if Skjei plays against the best opposition? Vigneaut seems to think it will.
Regarding Smith, he has performed only fractionally better defensively than Holden, and he is the lowest rated in managing the puck, which seems to effectively remove him from consideration.
Another factor in selection and playing time of the four through six slots, is the amount of ice time remaining for the top three, particularly McDonagh.
Was he tired late in the game in getting beat back to the net front on the fourth goal against? Would he have been more vicious at the net front on the tying goal if he was fresher? Maybe wacked Pageau? Granted on the fifth goal, it is usually safe for a defenseman to allow a strong side tip from a bad angle, In addition, Pageau pushed off Staal, creating some space and leaving McDonagh with a net front 2 v 1.
Has Vigneaut made the right decisions?
Pretty close we would guess based on the numbers, but if King Henrik can return to form and the Rangers can raise their level of urgency again at home, the discussion about Ranger defensemen will disappear as fast as it did in round one vs the Canadiens.
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