Rangers defensive woes signal time for a change

Ruff (Getty Images)

David Quinn was at a loss for words to describe another woeful performance by his Blueshirts. The alarming trend of early goals and hemorrhaging shots were on full display against Ottawa. You can say they need to work harder, make the simple play, or any generic coach speak you choose. The fact is this is a systems issue and a change is needed.

“An abysmal game in so many ways,” Quinn said. “Give Ottawa a lot of credit. I thought they played hard, they played smart, they won every foot race, they won every one-on-one battle. At the end of the day, that’s been the trend for us. When we start feeling good about ourselves, we don’t do a really good job of handling that.


Danger, Danger!

The Rangers are at the bottom of the league when it comes anything shots related. Simply put on most nights they give up far too many to the opposition and it doesn’t seem by design either. In the 90’s the NJ Devils played “the trap” so effectively they won 3 Cups. Designed to cause turnovers, it also kept shots to the point and boards. You could shoot on Brodeur all day, but the Devils barely gave up anything in the middle. Then in an instant, their system would cause an odd man rush the other way.

On most nights, I can’t tell you what the Rangers defensive strategy is. They usually spend the night poke checking, backing off the man with the puck, and screening Lundqvist. The forecheck is almost non existent and they wind up chasing the man for the better part of the game.

While I’m not a proponent of advanced stats, particularly on an individual player, and especially in single game sample sizes, after 20 games I’m interested. The Rangers are dead last in CF%, funny enough, the red-hot Islanders are second to last. The difference, the Rangers give up a ton of high danger chances (210) compared to the Islanders (184). The Isles also get more high danger chances and are on the positive side of that equation, hence the disparity in records.

This is not to say the Rangers should adopt anything Barry Trotz is doing. Defensive systems are supposed to be tailored to your personnel, and the Rangers defense is young. For me to even suggest what they should play is presumptuous and well beyond my pay grade. Still, what’s going on now is not working and something needs to be done.

Time for a change

So when we are talking about a change on defense, the easiest and most obvious thing to do is change the system. That also would imply changing the man with that responsibility, Lindy Ruff.

On June 24th, 2017 the Rangers fired Jeff Beukeboom and brought on Lindy Ruff as an assistant responsible for the defense. Alain Vigneault was fired at the end of the 2018 season but Ruff was retained. While he likely lobbied for the head coaching job, the Rangers wanted a new direction and hired NCAA coach, David Quinn.

Jeff Gorton surprisingly kept Ruff on board, likely to help Quinn get his feet wet as a rookie NHL coach. The result was the Rangers defense ranked among the worst in the league last season, and even though they’ve added Jacob Trouba it isn’t any better today.

A quarter of this season is now gone. The Rangers are struggling and Ruff is not bringing any new ideas or solutions to the table. The team needs a shakeup, and David Quinn isn’t going to be fired, so replacing Ruff is the logical move.

Promote Brown

Greg Brown BC Eagles

It’s time for Greg Brown who was Quinn’s pick to run the defense to fully take over. Brown had a solid pro career as defenseman and was a teammate of both Brian Leetch and Mike Richter in the 1988 Olympics. He also played 4 seasons in the NHL to go along with his college and international career that spanned 20 years.

Before joining the Rangers staff, Brown was an assistant with Boston College and was responsible for the defense. While there, BC won the NCAA title 3 times and he coached Chris Kreider. Also notable is the fact he coached Brady Skjei at the 2014 WJC and Rangers promising prospect Ryan Lindgren at the 2017 & 2018 WJC.

He has been touted as an innovative and bright young mind. When looking at this young defense, his approach both tactically and personally could be all this Rangers team needs.

Anthony Scultore has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL since 2014. His work also appears at... More about Anthony Scultore

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