Rangers’ Defense Stepping up in Absence of Forward Depth

The New York Rangers are coming off a string of important wins against the San Jose Sharks, the Philadelphia Flyers, and the Toronto Maple Leafs. These defining wins against two strong out-of-division teams and one crucial Metropolitan Division win add to the legitimacy of the Rangers team this season.

Not only is the club enjoying phenomenal goaltending from 26-year-old Igor Shesterkin but the team is seeing contribution from the blue line. Adam Fox, Jarred Tinordi, Ryan Lindgren, and rookie Braden Schneider all scored in the last five games. Besides scoring, the defensemen contributed with plenty of assists and were key in the goal setups. The Rangers collectively scored 17 goals in their last five games.

Adam Fox New York Rangers
Adam Fox, New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Six of those goals were netted by defenders. This may not seem like much of a heavy contribution, but with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad hot, not many others are landing on the scoresheet like those two. That being said, the team is not seeing much depth scoring lately, thus, it is even more integral the defensive core can help out.

Of course, having a talent like Fox comes with natural offense but even Schneider is moving the puck well and found a way to help out in San Jose. The significance is that the defense is doing well producing but never neglects to thwart scoring opportunities for opponents.

Jacob Trouba’s physicality reached a new level in New York this season, Schneider is a solid defensive defenseman besides recording his first NHL goal in his debut. Lindgren can stand alone just fine without Fox. K’Andre Miller and Patrik Nemeth look a little shaky. The fact Miller and Nemeth can cruise through a rough patch but still have a solid blueline overall is a bright indicator of the veracity of the Blueshirts.

A Look at The Numbers

There were nine defensemen assists on the last 17 goals (keep in mind some goals credited only one player assist) with Fox being the most productive. Fox recorded two goals and four assists in the last five games that began with the Anaheim Ducks. He is on a three-game point streak.

Fox’s partner, Lindgren, tallied two goals and one assist in this stretch as well. He had his first multi-goal game this season in Anaheim. Last night when the Rangers hosted the Leafs, Lindgren was the sole catalyst in the Ryan Strome goal that gave the Rangers their first lead of the game. It was an instrumental turning point in the meeting between the two Original Six teams.

But more importantly, it shows the team found a way to get the puck past another solid goaltender with a .927 save percentage (SV%). Though the Rangers struggled to throw netminder Jack Campbell off prior, the Rangers took two of the three games this 2021-22 series. The growth between the Rangers’ ability to only score one to two goals on Campbell in the games prior compared to last nights six is another positive sign.

To put it in perspective, Campbell’s SV% is in the Shesterkin ballpark. Shesterkin sits at .938 SV% with five fewer games played compared to Campbell. Shesterkin boasts a 2.03 goals-against average (GAA) second only to Carolina Hurricanes’ Frederik Andersen, with Campbell at 2.44 GAA, for sixth-best in the league.

Braden Schneider, New York Rangers
Braden Schneider, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Trouba collected three assists, including two Wednesday night. His partner, Miller picked up one helper in the span of five games as well. The key here is that the defense is still young. Only Trouba and Nemeth can be considered league veterans, yet none of the defenders are reliant on their partners. Not even young Schneider seemed lost out there.

There is some shuffling that could happen with the defense pairings, as the organization has a seven-foot-deep prospect pool to dip into. According to Vince Mercogliano, regardless of the youth, Nemeth is likely a mainstay on the final pair to allow a rotation of young players until one claims the bottom right spot for good. (from “6 NY Rangers’ thoughts on Alexis Lafrenière, rookie defensemen, trade targets and more”, Lohud Sports, 1/12/22)

Are the Rangers Really Contenders?

Ryan Reaves certainly thinks so.

He spoke of the win last night, “it shows we can hang with the big boys, we are one of the big boys, we gotta keep beating the playoff teams….we’re proving to the league and to ourselves and to the league that we’re contenders….the standings don’t lie.”

Related: 3 Reasons the Rangers Are 2022 Stanley Cup Contenders

Certainly, the positive trend of blue line production is key in receiving an invite to the postseason and for prolonged success. Confidence can only help the team build from here as well. Reaves, on the fourth line, netted two of the six goals last night.

Three of the four assists on Reaves’ pair came from defensemen. Though the bottom six players are producing here and there, it is still the defenders helping start the goals. More reliable production from top and bottom players will be needed, rather than counting on two or three of the bigger names.

The game against Toronto and the upcoming game against the Hurricanes will be as meaningful performances as it is going to get for the young, but mature team. Of course, the defense must continue to chip in, Shesterkin must stay healthy and on top of his game as well. The special teams will need to be effective the entirety of the season and perhaps some consistent depth scoring from the offensive lines.

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