Coming Down The “Homestretch”
As the Blueshirts finish off the 2016-2017 regular season, they are in a unique position. They should/will finish with one of the NHL’s top five records, and still be in a wild card spot. And that’s all well and good, but the team still has some things to figure out.
And while those questions may have been answered, new ones have come up. What’s gone on with Kevin Klein? And now that the defense seems to be getting healthy, who will AV put on the blue line? The Rangers have the benefit of depth, so if a player starts to slip, they can “swap” him out of the lineup. Ryan McDonagh will obviously remain on the top pair, but the question becomes who joins him. He has looked good these last few games with Marc Staal, but that may not last when Dan Girardi comes back in the lineup. Nick Holden has struggled the last few weeks, showing signs of why Colorado may have been willing to let him go in the offseason. Kevin Klein’s play has fallen off a cliff in comparison to previous year’s with the Blueshirts. Dan Girardi has been better than he was, and the aforementioned Skjei has looked like the next stalwart on the blue line.
So how should AV deploy his troops when they are fully healthy?
I wouldn’t break up the Staal and McDonagh pairing. Staal has played well the last few games, and has done a nice job with the captain. As for the other four slots, I’d go with Holden and Smith as a pair, and then Girardi and Skjei. Smith has been pretty steady in his short time on Broadway, and putting him with Holden should help him get back to playing his game. As for the Skjei and Girardi pairing, Skjei will have more freedom to take the “extra pinch” knowing he has a defensive defenseman playing with him.
If this is how it shakes out, Klein would become the seventh defenseman, Kampfer would most likely be sent back down to Hartford, and Clendening gets to sit in the press box some more. He (Clendening) has only gotten into the lineup when there have been injuries, and with the acquisition of Smith, there just isn’t enough room on the ice for the young defenseman.