Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Defending the Rangers Defense

During the first 44 games of the season, the Rangers defense played as expected. And that's not a good thing.

They were porous, chaotic and the sole reason for the Rangers uneven play.

If you looked the Rangers defense up in the dictionary, this is what you would have seen...

The numbers backed up the eye test as on January 15th the Rangers were allowing a cringeworthy 9.17 5-on-5 scoring chances per 60 minutes which was 25th in the league. This led to a 2.51 5-on-5 goals against per 60 minutes which was 22nd in the NHL. In other words, they weren't good.

The substantial amount of scoring chances against also took its toll on Henrik Lundqvist as he had a career worst .902 save percentage and a confidence that was severely shaken.

Then along came January 17th. Or as I like to call it, rock bottom for the Rangers defense as well as Lundqvist. As inferior as the Blueshirts blueline had been up until that point, the 7-6 defeat at the heads of the Dallas Stars to drop the Rangers to 28-16-1, might qualify as their worst performance of the season.

There was literally no where for this defense to go but up. And that's actually what happened.

I'm not sure if there was a defensive players only meeting or Beukeboom was able to discover a flaw in their game or maybe pride just set in, but somehow, someway this Rangers blueline has stabilized.

In the last 11 games, the defense has allowed just 5.29 5-on-5 scoring chances per 60 minutes which is good for 10th in the NHL during that time frame, leading to a 5-on-5 goals against per 60 minutes of an impressive 1.80 which is 4th in the league since January 19th.

And not surprisingly, as the scoring chances have decreased, Lundqvist's numbers have shot through the roof as during this defensive revival he's sporting a 8-1-0 record along with a .939 save percentage in his last 10 starts.

Despite the improved play of the defense being a major factor in the Rangers winning 9 of their last 11 games including six straight, the narrative hasn't changed for some as the blue line is continually ridiculed for goals that could have been prevented by better forward play.

Let's take a look shall we.

In the Rangers 2-1 win against the Sabres on February 2nd, the lone Buffalo goal was a complete breakdown by the entire line of forwards as all three found themselves below the circle leaving Cody Franson all alone to bury one on Lundqvist (Watch here).

Next, in the Rangers 4-2 victory over the Avalanche last week, Derek Stepan sprinted into the slot without looking for the open man which gave Gabriel Landeskog the time and space he needed to tie the score at 1-1 (Watch here).

And finally, on Monday night in Columbus, instead of recognizing that Dan Girardi was following Saad behind the net and sprinting over to the open man on the wing, JT Miller glides into the slot allowing for an easy goal by Brandon Dubinsky (Watch Here).

Now this doesn't mean the Rangers miraculously have a Stanley Cup caliber defense and should forego any attempts to upgrade the blueline at the trade deadline, however, it does prove that this defensive corps, who has seen its share of mileage, still has a little gas left in the tank and Rangers fans as well as the rest of the league need to take notice.

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