Hockey is all about the ups and downs. Never once has a hockey team not hiccupped along the way. No player has had a great game every time he/she stepped on the ice. When these game-by-game problems turn into consistent, routine actions is when a real issue arises. The New York Rangers’ defensive problems have manifested into a much, much bigger issue and show no signs of stopping anytime soon. Let’s shed some light on the problems.
The importance of suppressing high-quality chances as a defenseman is second to none. It just so happens that stopping these high-quality chances from becoming a reality is the one thing that the Rangers do worse than the majority of the other teams in the NHL. While Henrik Lundqvist is aging, there has never been a more important time for the defense to step up and help Hank out. If the Rangers plan on playing in April, they will have to work on eliminating the high-quality chances they’ve consistently allowed over the last month.
So, what exactly is a high-quality chance? The answer is often defined as a chance within a certain distance, but there’s much more to it. Any time a player is in front of the net and has a clean enough angle to tip, that’s about as high quality a chance as there is. The video above is just one of the many, many times this scenario has happened to the Rangers over the last month or two of games. High-quality chances don’t just stop there, either.
The Rangers have been noticeably bad in front of their net over the last two months, regardless of who the goaltender is. Individually, Kevin Klein and Dan Girardi have been the two worst on the Rangers in terms of allowing non-contested shots in front of the net or allowing passes into the slot through their positioning. No goalie is going to stop the bulk of these chances. The problem is not Henrik Lundqvist. The problem is the defense.
Amazing Offensive Output Shielding Defensive Failures
The Rangers have scored the most goals in the NHL this year, currently sitting at 158 goals scored over 45 games. An offense can win a team most regular season hockey games. When that team reaches the playoffs, the dynamic of the game changes. That is what is most scary about the Rangers team that is being put on the ice right now. If the Rangers don’t make at least one big change that adds a legitimately good defensive defenseman, the Rangers season will be ending earlier than most hoped it would.
Another major issue with the Rangers’ defensive core is cleanly exiting the zone. Often times when teams forecheck hard, the Rangers defensemen will settle with an icing call rather than the correct pass. This hurts the team offensively and defensively, often allowing the opposing team to set up and make a play. When teams have set up and found open ice near the net, bad things have happened for the Rangers this year.
With players like the Anaheim Ducks’ Cam Fowler and the Detroit Red Wings’ Mike Green potentially looking for new homes, the time to fix the zone exit problem is now. Whenever general manager Jeff Gorton decides to revamp the defensive core will likely also coincide with the Rangers getting back to their winning ways. Lundqvist isn’t the problem. The problem has been in front of him. Dan Girardi is no longer an NHL quality defenseman and Kevin Klein is having his worst season since he joined the Rangers. Both Girardi and Klein are likely not going to appear on the Rangers past this year. As long as they are on the roster now, they are derailing the Rangers chance at winning another Stanley Cup.