Shaky Defense Could Sabotage Rangers

While watching the New York Rangers halfway through this season, people will notice that they are more than capable of putting the puck in the net with the offensive depth they possess. Unfortunately for the Rangers, that depth doesn’t carry over to the defensive side, as their blue line is serviceable at best.

So far in the 2016-17 season, the Rangers are ranked second in the NHL in goals per game with an average of 3.38. On the flip side, they rank eleventh in the NHL in goals allowed per game with 2.62. The defense used to be the strong point of the Rangers, especially when John Tortorella was the head coach, as he emphasized strong defensive play and shot blocking. It was also helpful to have a future Hall-of-Fame goalie in Henrik Lundqvist. 

With Alain Vigneault coaching the team since 2013, he has emphasized speed and offensive play. The defense was the downfall of last year’s team, when they were exposed by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who eliminated them in the first round of last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs in five games. Even though the Rangers won one game in the series, it was not close, as they were outscored in games four and five by a margin of 11-3.

Since the conclusion of last season, the Rangers’ defense has not changed too much, with the exception of the trade of puck-moving defenseman Keith Yandle to the Florida Panthers. They also acquired defenseman Nick Holden from the Colorado Avalanche and signed Adam Clendening in free agency. Apart from those transactions, the Rangers’ defense has remained the same, with captain Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Klein, Brady Skjei, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. The latter of whom have been a big problem for the Rangers’ defense in the past couple of seasons.

The duo have been Rangers for their entire careers, both debuting in 2007. They have both been all-stars and overall solid players for the Rangers throughout their careers. Staal has been slowed down by injuries like his first concussion in 2011, which led to him missing the first half of the 2011-12 season due to post-concussion syndrome. He also suffered a small retinal tear in his right eye and an orbital fracture in 2013 that caused him to miss the remainder of that season. Staal’s play has been inconsistent since those injuries have occurred. However, the Rangers did sign him to a six-year contract extension in 2015 that has a $5.7 million cap hit.

Girardi has regressed in the past couple of seasons as well. The assistant captain is known to block shots and put his body on the line. This has slowed him down as he has sustained lower body injuries due to his playing style. Much like Staal, Girardi signed a contract extension for six years in 2014. Girardi’s contract has a hefty $5.5 million cap hit along with a no-move clause, which means the Rangers cannot trade him.

Both Staal and Girardi were given contract extensions based on their past performances. Defense and goaltending have mainly been the strong part of the post-lockout Rangers. However, this year it has not been. It may keep them from competing for a Stanley Cup even with their talented offensive group.