Ryan McDonagh never returned after taking a punch to the face from Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds this past Saturday in Philadelphia. McDonagh would miss the Rangers most recent contest against the New Jersey Devils with a concussion.
Now, with the Rangers right in the thick of a playoff push they will have to turn to Keith Yandle to go from being their offensive specialist, to being their top overall defender. He’s played most of his career in big defensive roles in Arizona, but since coming to New York he has been relegated to playing in a smaller role with a very deep blue-line. With the added responsibility we could see Yandle’s game jump to the next level.
In the Rangers’ last three games, Yandle has seen a jump in ice-time with the captain out of commission. In the game against the Flyers he played 27:33, in the following game he logged 25:19, and against the Penguins on Wednesday he played 22:43. Yandle has been excellent all season, but, in these past games, he seems to be skating with more conviction, recording a goal, an assists, and 12 shots on goal.
It seems that the jump in ice time is helping him get more involved in the game.
A key factor in the defenders game is his ability to place pucks with accuracy, and he was able to score a late goal against the Flyers to help Rangers pull out a win. This confidence is surging through his game and it’s a great sign for the team that they have another blue-liner that can make plays under pressure.
Being More Responsible
Yandle has always played a somewhat risky style, in that he will make passes through defenders, and hang onto pucks under pressure; which explains his team leading 50 giveaways. It comes with the territory of being an offensive-defenseman that there will be some mistakes, but with him getting the promotion, he will need to minimize the “glaring errors”. One that jumps off the page to me was this brutal turn-over on the power-play against the Devils.
As you can see, Yandle turns and spikes the puck right to a defending player, which turns into a two-on-one, and ends up in the back of the net. Now yes it’s a bad play, but the bigger issue is the timing of the play. The Rangers have a power-play, and a two goal lead, with under three minutes to go in the game. All he has to do is keep the puck out of trouble , so the decision-making for a veteran defender certainly leaves something to be desired. Rangers’ Head Coach Alain Vigneault summed it up after that game telling the media “The same guy that permitted us to go into overtime in Philly, by making a great play, Yands (Yandle) just made a low percentage pass there, and it ended up biting us.” (The Coach would go on to say that the defender has been playing “extremely well“).
It seems that guys like Yandle need to play big minutes in games to really be at their best. In some of the games where he isn’t coming near 20 minutes he can sometimes look like he’s forcing plays, but when the Rangers really trust him and play him, he plays with more poise, and he has the ability to have a big impact. No one knows what the future holds, but I think that the Rangers have to find a way to increase his role with the club, because he’s a difference maker on the back-end, and that’s a hot commodity in the NHL.
As far as costly turn-overs go, that might not be something that can get fixed. What makes him unique is his willingness to walk that line, so by trying to get him to be more conservative would be taking away from his best asset. That being said, he does need to have better situational awareness.