kevin klein

McDonagh’s Returning ; Which Defenseman Sits?

The Rangers’ borderline Norris-caliber defenseman Ryan McDonagh is returning to the lineup just in time for the start of the NHL playoffs. That’s good. The Rangers have seven defensemen on the roster who have justified, by some measure, a spot in the Game One lineup on Thursday. That’s also good.

Unfortunately, Alain Vigneault can only dress six defensemen, and thus he has a problem; even if it’s a “good” problem. Someone has to sit. Who is it going to be? Surely Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and Anton Stralman are all safe. That leaves Kevin Klein, Raphael Diaz, and John Moore vying for the two remaining spots. There are pros and cons to keeping each of these three guys in the lineup, so let’s sort through them.

Kevin Klein

 

Why He Should Play

Acquired from the Nashville Predators on January 22nd in return for Michael Del Zotto, Klein has been exactly as advertised. He’s arguably the least technically gifted player on the Rangers but makes up for it with effort and experience. He’s managed a positive Corsi % despite mostly playing with the bottom-two lines and playing against a Quality of Competition than both Diaz and Moore. Klein is the best pure defender of the three and might be most apt in dealing with the bump-and-grind Flyer wingers. Especially with the kind of style the Flyers play and with idiots physical wingers like Zac Rinaldo and Jay Rosehill surely matching up against the Rangers’ third pairing, does Alain Vigneault want to deploy two finesse defensemen? Finally, in 28 career playoff games (all with the Predators) Klein averaged 19:26 of playing time. If Barry Trotz, a respected and defensive-minded head coach, trusted Klein to play heavy minutes then there is reason for Vigneault to do the same.

 

Why He Should Sit

Alain Vigneault’s system is heavily dependent on getting offensive contributions from the blue line. Especially with Kreider out indefinitely and a struggling powerplay, the Rangers could use all the help they can get from the defense; Kevin Klein is never going to provide that. The Flyers’ third line has most recently had Matt Read and Jake Akeson on the wings. Both guys have tremendous wheels and I’m not completely sure that Klein’s hockey sense is enough to make up for the clear mismatch in foot-speed. Though Klein is a relatively steady defensemen, he’s been a negative Corsi player in eight of his last 10 games despite being deployed in the offensive zone more often than not.

 

 

Raphael Diaz

 

Why He Should Play

Diaz’ insertion into the lineup was a minor move that had subtle but certainly positive effects. He’s a far cry from Brian Leetch, but with the powerplay begging for a quarterback he showed some aptitude in moving the puck from the point and putting pucks on net. Despite playing against competition that was better in relation to his own linemates, Diaz has earned +5.6 Corsi Relative % (how high his Corsi is compared to the rest of the team). Aside from one blatantly awful play in overtime against Montreal, he’s been more or less mistake-free.

 

Why He Should Sit

Diaz has looked fine… in all of 11 games with the Rangers. Is that a big enough sample size for Vigneault to be satisfied in knowing what he has? Does he trust that Diaz understands the system well enough to play key minutes in a close game or in overtime, knowing fully that one bad decision could ruin the entire series? I have no idea. That’s for Vigneault to decide. It is, however, a legitimate reason why Vigneault might choose to sit him. At 5’11 and 195 pounds (and those are probably generous measurements), Diaz is hardly an overpowering player. He doesn’t exactly have the Ryan Callahan quality of playing bigger than his size, either. I’m not at all one of those people still stuck in 1990 screaming for “TOUGHNESS”  but in this kind of atmosphere against a team proficient in physicality he might not be the guy you want out there as Scott Hartnell or Wayne Simmonds is slamming his stick into Lundqvist’s arm or to battle for a puck in the corner.

 

 

John Moore

 

Why He Should Play

John Moore returned from his concussion and played like the player he has the ability to be. He scored two goals and added an assist in his seven games and was an asset on the point in the offensive zone. He no longer was making the defensive errors that he was earlier in the season and was playing a generally steady game while adding some flair. He also provides the “best of both worlds” in terms of finesse and physicality. He’s shown in the past that he’s not one to get intimidated physically and will answer the bell when necessary. He also has the raw skill to make plays. What Moore also has on his side is his age and fitness. We saw a couple years ago how Ryan McDonagh made life absolute hell for the Capitals and was zipping around the ice in overtime while everyone else was sluggish. Moore has a similar ability to withstand a marathon and stand out should any game go past the initial 60 minutes.

 

Why He Should Sit

Moore has been very good in his five games since filling in for the injured McDonagh. That’s also only five games out of the 74-total games he played this season; the majority of which he was not very good in.

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Here’s a usage chart for relevant Rangers’ defensemen this season. To simplify it, John Moore has been very sheltered. He’s been deployed mostly in the offensive zone; far more than anyone else. He’s also played against the easiest competition. Even still, he’s a very pale blue, meaning he’s been pretty close to average in terms of possession. We’ve seen a million players have a handful of very good games, and a million players then regress.  There’s no question that John Moore has been the best of the three over the last couple of weeks, but Alain Vigneault has to weigh that against what Moore has shown for the bulk of the season. Should he ride the hot hand and trust that Moore is going to carry his improved play into the playoffs? On one hand, if Moore is going to contribute now then what difference does it make how bad he was in the winter? On the other, can we really feel comfortable saying that these past five games where what we’ll get out of John Moore and not the previous 65+?

 

There really is not a blatantly right or wrong choice here. Personally, I think Diaz and Moore are similar enough that you choose between one of them and keep Klein for the purely defensive and grit component. I’d probably gamble on John Moore’s upside, plus Klein being right-handed doesn’t help Diaz, who is also a right-handed shot. I don’t envy whichever of Vigneault or Samuelsson has to have the conversation with the guy who sits, because they’ve all put up a strong case for remaining in the lineup. Nonetheless, the depth is important for the Rangers hope will be a long playoff run, and all three guys will likely see some ice if that’s the case; maybe as soon as Game Two. In any case, how nice it is to have options beyond Stu Bickel and Roman Hamrlik.

 

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