Teams must have a strong defense to compete for championships. Suppressing shots is extremely important as it will limit your goalie’s workload immensely. Having the puck is one way to limit shots against. Chemistry among players, especially defensemen is more than just partnering your two best defenders together. Knowing your partner’s tendencies are what often drive a pair to success. The Rangers have had some solid defensive pairs since their Stanley Cup run that took place in 2013-14.
5. Ryan McDonagh with Kevin Shattenkirk
The Rangers had been hot on Kevin Shattenkirk for years. He was born in New Rochelle, had been a New York Rangers fan growing up and his favorite player being Hall of Fame defenseman Brian Leetch. On Jul. 1, the Rangers inked Kevin Shattenkirk to a four-year contract with an annual average salary of $6.65 million. With the Rangers moving on from homegrown warrior Dan Girardi, management believed they finally had a guy in his prime whose skills would complement McDonagh’s well.
McDonagh and Shattenkirk were in the lineup together for 41 games. They played a total of 54:55 with one another. That doesn’t even add up to one game. Alain Vigneault felt the need to split them up and put one on one pair and one on the other instead of deploying both as a unit.
McDonagh and Shattenkirk still had a 53.04% CF as a pair. According to Kent Wilson of The Calgary Herald, “All things being equal, Corsi ratios tend to range between 40-60 per cent for most players and teams.” Wilson adds that a score of 55 or more qualifies as elite.
It is unfortunate that Shattenkirk’s season ended prematurely due to a torn left meniscus, and that the Rangers wound up dealing McDonagh to Tampa Bay at the deadline. The pairing ranks fifth because they did not play enough with each other, but when paired, their numbers were just below elite.
4. Ryan McDonagh with Dan Boyle
Dan Boyle signed with the Rangers in the offseason after the Stanley Cup final loss to the Los Angeles Kings. At the time of the signing, he was 38-years old. The Rangers didn’t have a true power play quarterback and it showed in the 2013-14 playoffs. New York had a 12.6% power play for that playoff run which is completely unacceptable if you expect to win a Stanley Cup.
Boyle was coming off a down year in San Jose in which he only registered 36 points in 75 games. Half of his points were registered on the man advantage. Ex-Rangers general manager Glen Sather let defensive stalwart Anton Stralman leave via free agency to bring in Dan Boyle hoping he would give the powerplay a jolt.
Boyle played 65 games in his first season in New York while registering 20 points with eight coming on the power play. When he wasn’t on the power play he was often paired with Marc Staal.
Boyle found himself paired next to Ryan McDonagh for 83:37 in 2014-15, the pair had a CF% of 55.80 which is good for puck possession. Together, the pair was on the ice for four goals for and three allowed. Those aren’t bad numbers considering they only played what equated to four periods together.
3. Ryan McDonagh with Keith Yandle
With 24 hours remaining in the 2015 NHL trade deadline, Sather acquired the biggest name on the trade market in defenseman Keith Yandle. Boyle did not provide the powerplay spark the Rangers had hoped for and now it was time to turn to 28-year-old power play star Keith Yandle.
The supremely talented defenseman was joining a defense that many considered the best in the NHL. Sather believed Yandle was the missing piece to a Stanley Cup. Sather was not going to stand pat and watch the power play cost them another championship.
“This is the kind of player I wanted, a player we’ve been watching for a long time,” Rangers general manager Glen Sather said in the ESPN article by Katie Strang.
Yandle came over for the final 21 games during the 2015 season and put up 11 points for the Rangers. He played the second unit power play alongside McDonagh while Boyle continued to get top power play minutes.
McDonagh played almost all of his minutes that season paired with Dan Girardi while Yandle spent most of his minutes on the third pair. Yandle was a top-two defender for the Coyotes for his whole career averaging 21:24 per game. When McDonagh found himself next to Yandle during the 2014-15 season, they scored a 55.56 CF%. Those numbers came in 11 minutes.
A season later, the two played 43:58 together and scored a 64.79 CF% which is incredible. It is a shame Vigneault didn’t pair the two together more often considering McDonagh was the club’s best defender by far, and Yandle being the best offensive defender the club had possessed since Brian Leetch.
2. Marc Staal with Anton Stralman
During the 2013-14 Stanley Cup run, the Rangers had two-first pair defensive groups. They had the luxury of using Staal and Stralman as second pair defensemen when it could’ve been argued that during the final against the Kings, Stralman was their most stable defenseman.
Stralman was a seventh-round pick in 2005 of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Now, Stralman is on his fourth team (five if you count the Devils tryout). During the Cup run against the Kings, Stralman was a 27-year old defenseman who when drafted was supposed to be an offensive defenseman. John Tortorella brought Stralman in during the 2011-12 season and completely changed his game.
Stralman became a savvy defenseman in New York where he took his game to levels nobody would’ve expected. Terrific in his own end, Tortorella and Vigneault had him paired with veteran Marc Staal for most of his tenure in New York. With both being rock solid in their own end and always in position, they registered some impressive CF% numbers together.
In 2013, the Staal-Stralman pairing brought about a solid 52.28 CF%. This pair constantly had possession of the puck and when they didn’t, they were constantly in position to break up plays with their sticks and defensive smarts. 2013-14 brought about more impressive numbers for the pair. The duo registered a 56.40 CF% in 930 minutes together, a greater sample size in comparison to the 114 minutes they played together the year prior. Rangers management likely still regrets letting him walk in favor of veteran Dan Boyle who was 38 when signed.
1. Ryan McDonagh with Dan Girardi
There is no doubt many will destroy this pick. Here me out before you do. Dan Girardi no doubt slowed at the end of his career, but this duo was as solid as any duo this franchise has ever had.
Constantly tasked with top-pair matchups, both learned the in’s and out’s of defending elite competition on a nightly basis. The Washington post noted before the start of round two in 2015 against the Rangers that superstar winger Alex Ovechkin didn’t register a goal all 2014 season at even strength against the McDonagh-Girardi pair. During the 2014-15 season, he tallied one goal at even strength while both were on the ice and in 2012-13 as well.
During the 2013-14 campaign, McDonagh and Girardi compiled a 49.79 CF%. It is important to keep in mind that these numbers were against top competition almost every shift. The two played over 1,100 minutes together that season while only starting 46.83% of their shifts in the offensive zone.
A season later, both had a CF% of 47.27. The number dipped slightly from the year before. It is important to consider the pair started less in the offensive zone that year with an offensive zone start of 44.56%. Girardi’s game was underrated by many and it is a shame because, with over 850 regular season games played, he was as rock solid as could be and a warrior for the New York Rangers franchise.