The Rangers Crumbling Structure

Defensive woes have Lundqvist working hard in first (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

A word that has become very popular in the last two weeks when discussing the Rangers is “structure”. Structure is the team’s defensive posture according to their system, and lately their structure has been as bad as it gets.

When they got off to a great start and were winning games 7-1, 5-0 etc., they were playing as a tight, 5 man unit. Pucks were being, consistently, kept to the outside, while in the defensive zone. Both Henrik Lundqvist and Anti Raanta were stopping the puck, and facing a small amount of high quality shots.

No team is going to sprint thru an 82 game schedule without some down turns. Several factors have contributed to the erosion of the Rangers structure. Henrik Lundqvist has had an up and down season. Lately there have been very few of the miraculous saves we have grown accustomed to seeing through his stellar career.

The schedule has also had a large role for different reasons. The Rangers went into the 5 day bye week on a roll. An impressive win in Philadelphia, was followed by a stirring comeback victory in Columbus. Then 4 straight days off preceded a 4 pm Thursday practice before a Friday tilt with Toronto.

The team looked like they had never met each other for 3 straight games. Sure, they were scoring plenty of goals, but they were giving up an unacceptable amount of grade A chances. The solid play of the week before was a distant memory. Practice time reinforces structure, lack of it kills it, and definitely doesn’t help the goaltenders. The coaching, correcting, and repetitive drills have not been nearly plentiful enough.

You play the way you practice. If you don’t practice, every part of the team’s game will suffer. Between long stretches of no games, and too many games in very few nights, practice time has been extremely lacking.

But the biggest, and in all probability, most difficult issue is the Rangers defensemen. There is no player on the roster to team with Ryan McDonagh on the teams top pairing. Kevin Klein has had a brutal season, and Dan Girardi’s days as a top pair defenseman are over.

Holden scores the game winner in OT (Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

Marc Staal and Nick Holden have been a solid second pair. But not having a solid top pair to throw against the other teams best lines has a trickle down effect on all of the pairings. Dan Girardi started the year on the first pair opposite McDonagh. Girardi has lost too much mobility to stay there, so others were given auditions. Nick Holden, followed by Kevin Klein, then Brady Skjei all tried out and all failed.

Pairing McDonagh with Skjei also presents another dilemma..they are both left-handed. The second pairing, which has had the best chemistry, Staal and Holden, are also both left-handed. Leaving 3 right-handed defensemen, with Adam Clendening, to fill out the third pairing.

Is it worth breaking up the tandem with the best chemistry to keep Skjei with McDonagh? In my opinon, no, since those two didn’t fare very well together. It has become very obvious they need to go outside the organization to acquire a partner for Mcdonagh. Will they take another run at Jacob Trouba? Are their scouting reports on Michael Stone good enough? This all remains to be seen in the coming weeks as the trade deadline approaches. One thing is certain: Jeff Gorton will be a busy man.

On Another Note:

It seems the seventh defenseman on the Rangers has become as popular as the “backup quarterback on the football team”. Everyone clamors for the 7th to play, until he does and his warts are shown. Last year, many, including myself, wanted Dylan McIlrath to get more playing time over Dan Boyle and Dan Girardi.

This year it’s Adam Clendening over Kevin Klein and Dan Girardi. In my last piece I really was hoping to see more of Clendening. After 4 games I am seeing why the coaches were reluctant to give him more games played. In what few practices they have, the staff has seen his weaknesses, like they saw Mcilrath’s.

Clendening has strengths on the PP and passing, but is weak in his zone and decision making. McIlrath passed thru 30 teams without a waiver claim. He still hasnt won any regular ice time in Florida. I guess, “be careful what you wish for…”

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