Stranger Nation’s Midseason Reviews: Defense Edition

Part 2 of SN’s Midseason review. Part 3 should be ready for Thursday. We also have some great historical content coming up after that. Also, congrats to Carp for landing a new gig with the Rangers. You can’t keep a good man down.

And now, SN’s review.

Rangers D:
Coming into the season, this area presented the greatest need to address for GM Gorton and his staff. The prior season had provided a view into the youth on D and also some troubling signs of the veterans who looked broken and on the back end of their career. Gone from the squad was the offensively minded UFA Keith Yandle to Del Boca Vista along with offensively minded Dan Boyle who became a full time roadie for Faith No More. There had been some looks during the season/playoffs of lefty Brady Shea and more extended view of first round pick righty Dylan McIlrath. The stalwarts were Capt Ryan McDonough, Right D Dan Girardi, Left D Marc Staal and Right D Kevin Klein who all shared a legacy of performing in the regular season and playoffs with a couple possessing above market contracts.

GM Gorton made a quiet deal over the summer acquiring steady Lefty back liner Nick Holden from the Avs for a 4th round pick and signing a young ‘journeyman’ Right hander Adam Clendening to a one year 600K deal. The Holden move seemed to provide a steady vet who played top minutes in Denver with very little going the other way.

With that backdrop, the review of the different NYR:

Ryan McDonough: Grade B+: (Offense A/Defense B) [Editor’s grades: B+/B+] GP 48: 2-26-28 +10
The young Captain has provided fans with stretches of play that remind everyone about the Norris talk of season’s past. The high level of play is more on the offensive side of the ice and his assist totals are evidence of this production including 10 pts on the PP. While not the prototypical PP QB, he has played well in the teams’ new format that started off on fire in October but has fizzled out in January, ironically when starting forwards returned injury but the PP had been inconsistent for some time. On defense he has been steady but prone to some major errors leading to prime scoring opportunities/goals. These have been infrequent, but occurring enough in November/December to have some question whether he was trying to do too much or wearing down from not having a legitimate top pair partner.

Dan Girardi: Grade C (Offense C-/Defense C+) [Editor’s grades: D/D] GP 45: 3-6-9 +5
The assessment of this warrior of prior playoff series may depend upon how you value the past over the present and how incoming expectations color your perception of current performance. A long summer with time for recuperation and preparation created hope his body would recover and, in turn, a return to form of 2 or so seasons ago. What fans have seen is an upgrade from last season with stretches of better play offset by returns to bad habits with disastrous results. His inability to make smart effective plays with the puck can lead to extended D-zone forays and limit offensive possession. At this point, the D makeup requires Girardi to play 1st unit RD and he does not seem capable of playing at that level. He has recently played his best hockey after the recent five-day break so the hope is more rest from the ASG break and gaps in the remaining schedule will allow for necessary rest to allow him to play at his best.

Marc Staal: Grade B (Offense C-/Defense B+) [Editor’s Grades: C-/B] GP 40: 3-3-6 +10
Staal was another player many hoped the extended summer would allow for the requisite R&R to mend his body after the wear and tear combined with major injuries. While his offensive game has all but disappeared, his steady presence in D-zone has supplied the team with a proven consistent reliable stay at home Dman. His biggest challenge is handling the puck and making quick reads on the break out and, perhaps more troubling, his concussion history makes him more susceptible to a career ending hit to the brain bucket. He needs to stay healthy in order for this team to make any noise in the spring so fingers are crossed.

Kevin Klein: Grade D+ (Offense C-/Defense D) [Editor’s Grades: D/C-] GP 45: 0-11-11 +4
The steady backliner’s poor performance has been a critical issue for the team’s D. The trade to bring him over is still a great deal, but after coming back seemingly too soon from an injury, this season’s performance has been lacking in a scary way. In his NYR career Klein was a steady RD2 forced to play RD1 and his lack of pedigree showed against top-flight competition but this season it was showing against basically everyone. Concerns about returning too soon from injury turned into concerns over being able to play at his former level at all. The recent 5 day break provided some needed down time and Klein has seemed to pick up his game over a the recent stretch of games. The second half requires a return to last season’s form to help solidify this six-man unit and give this team any hope in April.

Nick Holden: Grade B+ (Offense A/Defense B) [Editor’s Grades: A-/B-] GP 49: 8-16-24 +18
Not sure who/what that 4th round pick will turn into, but the trade is a down right steal given his performance to date. In the first month there were some major defensive gaffes leading to highlight reel goals for the other team but he settled down and went on an offensive tear in Nov/Dec producing 7-10-17 including 2 PP markers. He has since come down to earth on the offensive end but if that level of play can return along with the steady play in the Dzone, his value will only rise. Not sure what Avs GM Joe Sakic was thinking or smoking, but only thanks from NY for sending him our way. His durability has proven to be a great asset as well. [Editor’s note: he had a hot month where he was arguably the best defenseman on the team. The rest of the season he’s played like a third pairing defenseman. Lately he hasn’t even been that.]

Brady Shea: Grade B (Offense A-/Defense C+) [Editor agrees] GP 48: 2-18-20 +7
This kid has all the physical tools; size, speed and a shot to warrant the ample ice time he was given by the staff. The mental aspects of making reads in the Dzone are not there yet, but the reasons to believe he can turn into an exciting lefty Dman for seasons to come are all in evidence. At times he uses his speed as a weapon to drive up the ice on a change, catching the opponent napping and leading to a good scoring chance. Other times, he will try to skate through two players in the neutral zone or attempt to use his speed to make up for poor D-zone positioning. The hope is the mental aspects will catch up to the physical ones and his game will flourish. For a player of his size, he could use his body more on the wall and also needs to pick his spots on when to rush better. A big question is how his game will hold up in the second half as the ice gets smaller, the refs swallow their whistles and mental mistakes end up as prime scoring opportunities.

Adam Clendening: B+ (Offense A-/Defense B-) [Editor’s Grades: B/C-] GP 18: 1-7-8 +6
A throw away pick up by Gorton has played important minutes as the season progressed, most recently due to the Staal injury after sitting for long stretches during the first 3 months. He is smart with the puck on his stick and has been handling the QB duties for the second PP unit; a role that had not been properly filled. Some see a burgeoning young player getting his game going and hope NYR has caught lightning in an bottle while others view a kid on his 5th team in 3 seasons awaiting the clock to strike midnight. His advanced stats are solid and over the latest stretch he has comported himself well on both sides of the ice. Right now, a productive 7D who has proven the ability to step in when called. The staff does not want to use him in important situations in March and April but his play has been adequate and his offensive game is very helpful.

Dylan McIlrath: Grade: Incomplete GP 1: 0-0-0
Just for kicks, thought to add a quick review of everyone’s least favorite 1st round pick from Uncle Glennie. [editor’s note: how quickly we forget Hugh Jessiman] A mix of draft status, injuries and the faster NHL has left this young behemoth on the outside looking in. Currently riding the Sunshine shuttle in FLA, he will always be the hulking Dman who either was not given a proper opportunity to succeed in NY or is a vestige of NHL days of yore not possessing the necessary skills to be a contributing player in this league. It leaves the team without a legit tough guy but some say the league doesn’t need that type any more.

Conclusion: Grade B –  [Editor’s Grade: C-]
The D has some questions around health, uneven performances and depth. A trade has been rumored for some time but does Gorton trade a young prime forward for help on D? January showcased the best and worst of times for this unit giving up 18 goals in 4 games including the nightmare 7 goals against by the Stars. These games were followed by a number of back to basics defensively focused efforts allowing only six goals over the latest four games. The right side needs to play much better in order for hope to spring eternal.

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65 thoughts on “Stranger Nation’s Midseason Reviews: Defense Edition”

  1. What did I think of his effing performance? Is that what you’re asking me, what did I effing thing of his effing performance? That’s some question, what did I effing think of his effing performance.’

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  2. Great job SN I still believe our D is in trouble! I think I know how Wicky must feel about AV’s extension! Not sure he’ll make it through next year! I’d buy you a beer Wicky but the drive would kill me!

    Like

  3. Rick Carpiniello (@RickCarpiniello) says:
    January 30, 2017 at 11:06 PM
    For the official record, I’m not actually an MSG employee, just freelancing twice a week for a while. Doesn’t rule out me getting a full-time job elsewhere or creating a blog somewhere, or anything, but, yeah, my MSG stories are going to fairly positive.

    And youse are hilarious, especially FG.

    And i will still be commenting here.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Pierre LeBrun ‏@Real_ESPNLeBrun 2 minutes ago

    Seems to be confusion out there about the date for the trade deadline. It is March 1 (not Feb. 28); both NHLPA and NHL confirm

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  5. The editor is cracking me up–with the Rangers’ D-level starting goalie and its C- defense, miraculously they have avoided last place! Expecting at least an A+ for the forwards.

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  6. Alex
    Didn’t a bunch of us have that convo recently re trade deadline? Glad the NHL finally got around to it;)

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  7. I think it’s the perfect opportunity to move the Islanders to Quebec. They’ve got an excuse – they’re getting kicked out of Brooklyn and their crappy ice. They’ve got a city clamoring for a franchise. Do it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Islanders to Quebec with Seattle eventually getting an expansion team. That gives you a 32 team NHL split among four four-team divisions.

    Eastern Conference –
    Atlantic: Rangers, Devils, Bruins, Flyers
    Southeast: Capitals, Hurricanes, Lightning, Panthers
    Mideast: Blue Jackets, Penguins, Red Wings, Sabres
    CanEast: Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Senators, Quebec

    Western Conference –
    Pacific: Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Seattle
    CanWest: Canucks, Flames, Jets, Oilers
    Southwest: Avalanche, Coyotes, Stars, Vegas
    Central: Blackhawks, Blues, Predators, Wild

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I agree with Norm. Grades aren’t really reflective of the record. They are obviously doing something right and that is not all due to the forwards. Maybe it’s the coaching….😉

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  10. Norm, I place a lot more emphasis on recent results than past results. The fact of the matter is that since 12/1, this has been a decidedly mediocre team. 15th in points, 15th in PP, 18th in PK. Before 12/1, this team was in 1st place, 9th on the PP, 6th on the PK.

    In January, this was a .500 team. That’s just not good enough.

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  11. Quebec City is not an option unless the owners are selling the team. Quebecor owns all of the facilities and wants to own a team, not just the building. The Islanders owners aren’t looking to sell, either. They are just looking for a new place to play.

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  12. Well, Mr. Editor, you harsh grader, you, why didn’t you say so? If your grades cover only January, I see your point. Being a half-full [of it] guy, though, I’m more appreciative that they came through their injury phase relatively unscathed.

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  13. The Rangers have in the top ten in each month but January, when they were 5-5. And you can give Lundqvist a January F only if you ignore his last four games (and his earlier Flyers game, 1/4).

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  14. I don’t know about letter grades, but I do know that the last decade or so has been a heck of a lot better than the late 1990s/early 2000s.

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  15. The thing that I noticed about Skjei, even when in minors, is the kid has a really nice touch on the passes – makes them easy to take. As to the grades, it might be instructive to compare our manic grading (really more based on our expectations of what they should be) to where they stand compared to the rest of the league. Clearly, even with Hanks foibles and any number of D breakdowns, they are still one of the better units.

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  16. Beezle, I said it a little while ago – Pittsburgh won a Stanley Cup with Letang and a bunch of non -allstars on defense. Old man Dailey, Cole Dumoulin, etc.

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  17. Bottom of Conference is getting tight. Currently every team within at least 7 points of WC2. Next 3 weeks will separate the wheat from the chaff and determine contender/pretender status.
    Heck, the Derbils are still in it!

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  18. As of right now, I’d say the top 4 in the Metro are in, the Canadiens are in, and then the other three spots are up for grabs. I’m guessing Leafs, Senators, and Bruins.

    The Islanders’ record under Weight is just a dead cat bounce.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I think the Bruins and Flyers are constructed very similarly. Both are basically one line teams with one good defense pairing. The Bruins have better goaltending, a better coach (although his current effectiveness is debateable), and play in the easier division, which should probably help them down the stretch. They also get two bites to get in (division and wildcard spot) while Flyers only have a shot through wild card.

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  20. Carp – I didn’t think much about playoff format. I have a feeling when the NHL goes to 2 teams (and it will), they might add a team or two in each conference. The NHL will try either an MLB-like one-game play-in or perhaps a two-out-of three mini-series.

    If you add a ninth playoff team then eight plays nine in a one-game elimination. You really want to screw with the teams than tank, make it a neutral site game.

    Whatever they do, the NHL needs to re-seed in order to reward the top teams and punish those who yank (yes I am talking to you Islanders).

    The four divisions goofs up the All_star Game, but who cares. If they still have to play it with the same format then have USA, Canada, World, and Young Stars.

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  21. RR2 – Good point on Isles management. They could move to KC with Quebec getting the expansion team. In my setup, Vegas to the Pacific, KC to the Central and Nashville to the Southwest – which will need a new name.

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