Ryan McDonagh has always been the kind of defender who “wows” fans with his ability to skate and hang on to the puck, even when he’s under heavy pressure. He’s been the key defender for the Rangers over the past few seasons, and the captain looks to be the new face of the franchise for years to come. For a while McDonagh’s game was really good, but he simply wasn’t as dominant as he usually is. Over the past few games however, he has found his form, and looks ready to resume his role as being one of the best defensemen in the NHL. McDonagh has seven points in his last seven games, and his defensive play at five-on-five has been exceptional as well. To put it simply the Rangers captain has been a major part of the teams improved play recently.
Leading by Example
Anyone who has watched McDonagh on the ice, has at one point seen the opposition on a breakaway, only to see number 27 come flying back to make a play to deny a great opportunity. When the captain is making those plays, the rest of the team seems to follow suit and play with the added confidence that separates the very good teams, from the “ok” teams. When the Rangers have been at their worst this season, they have had issues in judgement and McDonagh addressed that problem after the Rangers recent win over the Vacnouver Canucks, when he spoke to Blueshirts United; “Trusting ourselves, trusting our instincts, and if there’s a play to be made try to make it, if not, make the high percentage play.”
It seems that when the Rangers have been getting burned recently, it’s been a result of one player or another trying to do too much that has really hurt them. A change I have noticed is that McDonagh (who is superb under pressure) has been making more high percentage plays, and that seems to have bled into the rest of the team. Now that everyone seems on the same page just making smart plays and backing off the defense, he’s returned to making the poised plays at the blue-line that weren’t available earlier; and the Rangers have an added dimension because of it.
A huge part of any great players game is their level of confidence. When McDonagh’s at his best, we see him losing fore-checkers in the corners, making pump fakes at the blue-line, and flat-out blowing by opponents in the neutral-zone to lead the rush. During that rough spot, he just seemed like he was in damage control instead of leading the play the way he usually does. A key indicator of where his game is, occurred in Carolina against the Hurricanes when he jumped a route in the neutral-zone and buried the puck.
To me this is the ultimate measure of where his head is right now; a few weeks ago he’s probably worried about the forward blowing by him so he stays home, and that’s that; but here we see him assess where the puck is going, make an effortless interception, and the tuck a laser beam past Eddie Lack. These are the sorts of things that make opponents hesitate against the Rangers.
McDonagh is the most important player for the Rangers (Henrik Lundqvist is a close second folks.), when he’s at his best he’s a major impact in all three zones, and the “C” on his chest means that he’s also a key player in the fourth zone, the locker room.
McDonagh will go to All-Star Weekend, and that should be a fun experience for him to kind of relax, and get ready for the second half of the year. I expect the Rangers captain to drive forward off of his recent play, and lead this team into the playoffs.