Dreadful Defense Has Been Rangers Demise

The New York Rangers are 2-6-2 in their last 10 games after coming out of the gate on fire. They have done a few things poorly, but the main struggle has been their defense which before the season was considered one of the best in the league.

So how bad has it gotten? Well lets put it this way, the Rangers scored nine goals in their last two games, but lost because they allowed 12. In recent games the Rangers have lost coverage’s, made awful passes, and have simply made bad reads, and with goaltenders Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta coming back down to Earth off of their incredible starts, the Rangers have paid dearly for mistakes.

Losing Checks

Last year I was impressed by the Rangers defense on a nightly basis, but this season they have often times let guys get loose in dangerous areas. Two guys who are really struggling lately are Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. Neither guy has looked themselves in the past few weeks, and plays that they were making without any issue now seem like an adventure. In Girardi’s last three games he is a minus five, Staal was a plus one through the western Canada trip, but don’t be fooled, he could be much better.

To be fair almost everyone on the Rangers has gotten caught running around lately, I’m shocked with Girardi and Staal, because they usually stay back and focus on their own end of the ice, while their partners get involved in the neutral and offensive zones. For that reason, I think that their recent play is an anomaly, but they need to correct their play and soon, because top flight scorers can’t be getting left alone in front of the net.

Rangers Head Coach Alain Vigneault spoke about what he thought about the teams recent issues.

I agree with the coach here, the Rangers usually defend well, it isn’t as though this team doesn’t have the tools, or that the players have lost their talent, it just seems like they are playing and waiting for something bad to happen. I see that going away simply because I think the Rangers coaching is excellent, and I think they have a good core of leaders to help get the “good feeling” back in the room. Of the problems, man coverage is one thing that can be fixed with some tape.

Bad Passing

Now this is something that we almost never see out of the Rangers. Usually this team sends the puck around the ice, as if they have it on a string, but lately they have been struggling to get the puck up to their forwards in stride. More and more we have seen the Rangers defenders attempt stretch passes to send their forwards into the zone unimpeded, and it seems to me that teams are catching on and trying to cut the passes down early instead of staying with the man.

This is another one of those problems where you have players just whipping the puck without really seeing the play. It seems to me that everyone on the team is trying to hard to make the “big play” and that mentality is getting them into trouble. That being said, this is another issue that is fixable with some tape, and a touch of confidence.

Situational Awareness

The decision-making by some of the key players on the Rangers has been horrible, and that is unusual, because this is a team that has been incredible at managing games over the last number of years. They have developed the ability to manage games with several playoff appearances, so when we see top defenders like Ryan McDonagh make an extremely aggressive, low percentage play late, after his team just tied the game, one can’t help but wonder why.

The situational awareness really ties into every issue the club has right now, sometimes the Rangers take really big risks in odd positions and that’s what is leading to their game looking so strange and unstructured. Part of managing a game and protecting a lead is remaining aggressive even when it’s late, but when things are going against the team they need to just make the high percentage plays.

My Take

There seems to be a ton of worry circulating around the Rangers fan base right now, and there is good reason. But fans need to remember that teams slump, and sometimes it just seems like everything is going wrong. The defense has stunk recently, and the goaltending hasn’t been spectacular.

I think this team will take off after a game where they really have their rhythm. I think Girardi will benefit from missing a few games while he recovers from his knee swelling, and I think the Rangers as a team will return to playing their high pressure puck control game, they just need a shot of confidence. Then they can get back to being one of the best teams in the NHL. All I can say about this recent slump, is better now than in the post-season.