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Why Alain Vigneault Needs To Tweak The Defense (Even When Everyone Is Healthy)

The Rangers defense has been a problem all year, maybe injuries will for Vigneault to acknowledge that.

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

We've talked a lot in this space about the way the Rangers are struggling in terms of puck possession. Sometimes it's difficult to articulate that even with the use of charts and graphs to show where the pressure points are. Thanks to a Dan Girardi knee injury, the fanbase and the coaching staff got a look at Brady Skjei on Tuesday night. That audition will continue Thursday night since Girardi isn't travelling with the team out West and Kevin Klein still isn't ready to go.

But even when everyone is back Alain Vigneault should think about keeping Skjei in the lineup. Or, at the very least, making Dylan McIlrath a permanent member and sitting another defenseman not named Dan Boyle.

Elliotte Friedman helped illustrate the Rangers defensive issues in his fantastic 30 Thoughts column this week. In that article Friedman uses Sportlogiq's charting system to mark where the shots are coming from against the Rangers defense.

First let's take a look at the NHL average:

And then let's look at the Rangers:

The biggest argument used to defend Girardi (and to a lesser extent Marc Staal) and their horrific corsi metrics are that they "keep shots to the outside." And while this chart doesn't individualize the statistics per player, that "keeps things to the outside" argument has been used to defend the team's bad corsi as well earlier in the year.

This, simply, isn't the case; as seen above.

So far this year the NHL average is 29.48 shots per game. I've used this total to calculate the average NHL team will take 2,417 shots this year. Using these totals I've broken out how many more shots the Rangers will concede over the course of a season in high danger areas vs the rest of the league:

I've marked out the areas on the ice that I think are the highest danger (inner slot) to the lowest danger (either of the outside lower quadrants). The Rangers are allowing 32 more shots than the NHL average in the highest danger area and less than 29 and 24 shots (depending on the quadrant) on average in the low danger areas. That is not "keeping guys to the outside" or "playing good defense." And it's further proof that Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta are bailing the Rangers out when those mistakes happen.

If you look at the raw shot differential numbers: Girardi is -181, McDonagh is -107, Staal is -80, Boyle is -39, McIlrath is +25 and Keith Yandle is +41. In terms of scoring chances differential Girardi is -85, Staal is -54, McDonagh is -48, Boyle is -31, Mcilrath is +15 and Yandle is +17. (Funny how scoring chances align with corsi but that's for another day). It's not hard to pinpoint who the problem children are in that defensive group. And it's also not hard to pinpoint who gets better when moved away from them. And since Girardi, McDonagh and Staal play the most crunch time, they're the biggest part of these problems.

Per War-On-Ice to this point in the season only two goaltenders have made more high-danger saves than Lundqvist. Craig Anderson had made 156, Roberto Luongo has made 144 and Lundqvist has made 143. That number isn't staggering -- many good goaltenders on good teams are floating between 110-130 -- but it should put things in perspective that he's near the top in that category right now.

There were noted improvements to the defense against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday (with Girardi sitting in favor of Skjei). Maybe that's because injuries have forced Vigneault's hand and it's actually solving some problems.

No one should lose their job to injury, according to Vigneault. But as we've seen with Emerson Etem, that doesn't mean it can't happen if it makes the team better.