Two teams with arguably the best defense cores in their respective conferences met at the fitting Madison Square Garden Monday night. The New York Rangers, the hottest team in the NHL with an 8-1-1 record in their last ten games, hosted the NHL’s best Nashville Predators in a 4-1 win.
This game needed little hype after it was made official that the Rangers’ newly acquired defenseman Keith Yandle was going to make his debut with the team against Nashville. With Yandle being in the lineup, there would be no questions concerning which defensive unit was better after the game ended. The one downside was injured goaltender Henrik Lundqvist not being able to play against Vezina Trophy hopeful Pekka Rinne.
Nevertheless, the defensive battle would be settled on the ice.
Tale of the Tape
In Yandle’s debut, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault paired him with Kevin Klein to start the game. The two other pairings included Ryan McDonagh with Dan Girardi and Marc Staal with Dan Boyle.
Despite losing two straight games, Nashville head coach Peter Laviolette elected to keep the same defense pairings. Shea Weber with Roman Josi, Cody Franson with Mattias Ekholm and Victor Bartley with Seth Jones.
Not many teams would decline either teams’ roster on defense.
It was all New York — offensively and defensively.
This season, Nashville has struggled against teams with speed. They were exploited against the New York Islanders two weeks ago in an ugly 5-2 loss. With the Rangers being a speedy team as well, the Predators once again had a difficult time in their defensive zone.
Preds’ defenders look totally unprepared for the speed of #NYR forwards
— Kevin Baumer (@kevinbaumer) March 3, 2015
Lack of zone coverage left Rinne, who made 36 saves, out to dry.
Weber was on the ice for all four goals in his game-high 29:47 of time on ice, which is rare to see from arguably the NHL’s best defenseman. His defense partner Josi was a -2 on 28:35 of ice time.
Marc Staal scored the opening goal at 6:36 in the first period for the Rangers. His tally would be the only one from a defenseman.
The other three Rangers goals were of no fault to Nashville’s defense because Craig Smith failed to pick up Chris Kreider at 4:14 of the second period, Taylor Beck did not tie up Dominic Moore at 5:51 of the third, and Rich Nash had empty net with 44 seconds remaining in regulation on their respective scores. However, Yandle was at fault for Nashville’s lone goal by Matt Cullen.
New Guy vs Semi-New Guy
Being traded during the season, especially when switching from a team losing team to one that is winning, is not an easy task. Yandle and Franson are having to go through the difficult transition. Yandle was acquired by the Rangers from the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday. Franson was traded to Nashville from the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 15.
Yandle’s debut was a successful one, save getting used as a pylon by Beck, which included 19:41 of ice time, 3 shots, a hit and a blocked shot. Playing with a stronger defense core, Yandle will have the opportunity to join an offensive rush without having to worry about too much risk.
#NYR d-man Keith Yandle: “I try to be up in the play & contribute offensively. You look around this locker room, it’s a pretty elite group.”
— Sean Hartnett (@HartnettHockey) March 3, 2015
For Franson, he was given the difficult job of maintaining New York’s second line of Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Martin St. Louis. Franson was successful in not being on the ice when the opposition scored. However, at some point, his offensive instincts have to kick in. In 17:53 of time on ice, he had 2 shots and 3 hits.
In six games since joining the Predators, Franson has two assists in the scoring department.
Without any doubt, the Rangers showed the NHL why they are not a team to mess with defensively. For the most part, the Predators were given limited opportunities with the puck in high scoring areas. Adding a healthy Lundqvist would make the Blueshirts a legitimate Stanley Cup contender as the regular season is winding down.
Colin Fitts is a Nashville Predators staff writer and is a credentialed media member of the Chicago Wolves. From Nashville, Tennessee, Colin majors in journalism and public relations at Columbia College Chicago. Follow him on Twitter, @FittsTHW. Email: 22fitts [at] gmail [dot] com.