The Runner Sports

What Is Up With The Rangers’ Defense?

Four games into the season and we have already seen the good and really bad side of the New York Rangers…but mostly the bad. After losing 3-1 at home, again, to St. Louis, the Rangers fell to 1-3 on the season. Not the start they were looking for. The most damning part of the early struggles is the defense. There have been several decisions that have been questionable at best by Alain Vigneault regarding the lineup.

The Rangers made major moves over the summer to bolster their defense, which was a big weakness down the stretch last season. They signed Kevin Shattenkirk, re-signed Brandon Smith, traded for Tony DeAngelo while buying out Dan Girardi. This was supposed to give them a real solid core of defenseman with captain Ryan McDonagh, Brady Skjei, and Marc Staal. Nick Holden and Steve Kampfer were to rotate filling in along with a group of youngsters in the AHL nearing NHL readiness, such as Neal Pionk.

That sounds all good and dandy. Problem is, the Rangers’ coaches had other ideas. So, when the Rangers took the ice Sunday night, and again Tuesday night, the defensive pairings looked a lot different. In the lineup were defensive liability Nick Holden and journeyman Steve Kampfer. Meanwhile, young stud DeAngelo –who someone thought was good enough to swap for Derek Stepan and Anti Rantaa– and the steady and tough Brendan Smith, who is now being paid almost $4.5 million, were dressed in street clothes

Certainly seems odd, but listen, if it works you can’t argue with success. However, it did not work. AV benched Smith for Sunday’s game vs Montreal due to a lousy performance the night before in Toronto. That is fine, sometimes sending a message is good. But two games? And against a really strong offensive team in the Blues? Seems a bit excessive, especially so early in the season. DeAngelo is young and is still developing the defensive part of his game so there will be growing pains, but he needs to play to get better. Plus, he is terrific on offense. They tried dressing seven defensemen on Sunday night, but DeAngelo only played three minutes, so it didn’t make much of an impact.

On top of that, it is not like the replacements are very good options. Holden was partially responsible for last season’s playoff collapse. He had a great start of last season, scoring a bunch of big goals, but really struggled down the stretch. He is not great in his own end and tends to get stuck there quite often. Kampfer is a fine player but nothing special.

SO, what is the plan here?

The only logical assumption is that the Rangers are displaying these players to trade them. With such a logjam at defense, it makes little sense to keep everyone. The Rangers have spent the past few months trying to get younger, faster, and cheaper. Holden and Kampfer do not fit into the Rangers’ long-term plan. The Rangers are still looking for a good center. Perhaps they can package Holden with a prospect or draft pick to get a decent center. Whatever the plan is, the team has not looked particularly good so far with any combination of players in the lineup.

Other than Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich, the whole team looks out of whack. Maybe it is just rust. But, if this team is going to compete in the extremely tough Metropolitan Division, they will have to be better and the coaches will need to aid the process by putting the proper guys on the ice.