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The Rangers Have A Defense Problem (Which Is Hurting The Offense)

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The Rangers are going through a rough stretch of hockey where they aren't scoring goals and can't defend their own. Both of those issues are stemming from the defense.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers, and really general manager Jeff Gorton, are reaching a critical point in the season. With the 41st and exact midway point in the year coming this Saturday, the Rangers are in the midst of a (foretold) free fall that's seen them drop to third in the Metro with New Jersey and Pittsburgh nipping at their heels.

To this point Gorton has sat in ominous silence, watching from above as the Rangers crash back to earth after a totally unsustainable start to the year. It's sad that Gorton is in this mess, if we're being honest, since it's Glen Sather's fingerprints all over the smoking gun that's destroyed the Rangers' precious cap space flexibility, but it's still his problem to fix. And watching his head coach misuse and under-utilize the roster he current has is silence isn't boding well, either.

If the media is to be believed the Rangers need to start looking for some top six help because, well, the Rangers aren't scoring. This is a glossed over, vague autopsy that does little more than look at the surface and come up with some type of explanation of the problem. All one has to do, however, is look at how the Rangers generate their offense under this system and realize the fault behinds from the back.

Alain Vigneault has always implemented a rush-happy offense that's built on the defense transitioning the puck to the offense. That hasn't happened all that much this year, for a few reasons, but the biggest two reasons has been the massive drop off in Dan Girardi and Marc Staal's play, and their continued heavy use despite that reality.

In 2013-2014 when the Rangers went to the Stanley Cup Final they were a team that had a 52.4% corsi and a 52.5 scoring chance percentage. Those, to me, are the two most important advanced metrics a team can have: How much do you have the puck and how often are you generating scoring chances?

That summer the Rangers allowed Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle and Benoit Pouliot to leave -- three key components to those numbers above. And the metrics dipped a little: seeing the Rangers fall to a 49.5% corsi and 50 scoring chances the next year.

Now we're two years removed from that Armageddon summer in 2014, and the Rangers are feeling the aftereffects of allowing Stralman to walk for nothing and replacing him with inferior players. As of today, the Rangers are sporting a 47.3 corsi and a 45.8% scoring chance differential. Those numbers are a big reason why the Rangers are struggling, will continue to struggle and should not be looked at as true contenders at this moment.

Please don't take this article as something that absolves the sluggish first half of the year from Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes and Derek Stepan. Nor should it be taken as ignoring the fact that Rick Nash, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello have had intense stretches of offensive invisibility where they've also been black holes for possession.

That's all a part of this. This machine isn't working right now, and Gorton needs to figure out why and do what he can with the little space he has. The defense's inability to move the puck, however, is a big part of these problems. And the scoring chance differential goes hand in hand with the team's overall possession problems.

Girardi has a 41.78 scoring chance percentage (for a raw difference of -83). That's the highest scoring chance difference on the team by double digits, followed by Staal who has a 43.2 scoring chance percentage and a -73 in raw scoring chance differential.

What's worse, Girardi is playing 20:23 a night (2nd on the team) and Staal is playing 19:35 a night (fourth on the team). Keith Yandle is playing 19:14, fifth lowest of all the defenseman, despite sporting a 51.12 scoring chance percentage and +11 scoring chance raw difference. Oh, by the way, the Dylan McIlrath that can't get into the lineup? He's at a 52.79 scoring chance percentage and also has a +11 differential.

You can say what you want about the offense not finishing, which is a real problem that will eventually need to be addressed. But you can't do so without at least admitting the Rangers aren't generating chances the way they used to when they were successful because they're not able to break out the same way anymore. And since the Rangers have the puck a whole hell of a lot less than they did when they went to the Stanley Cup, it shouldn't be hard to see the biggest troublemakers.

For what it's worth, Girardi is a LEAGUE-worst -178 in shot differential (41.33% corsi). The only player on the Rangers with a worse corsi was Jarred Stoll at 38.61 (I'm not including the two Brady Skjei games here). Staal is a 45.99% corsi with a -90 raw differential. The numbers aren't good.

Which brings me to my next point: Ryan McDonagh hasn't been good, either. His 45.87% corsi and -93 shot differential is right alongside Staal. He is also sporting a 45.22 scoring chance percentage a is -51 in scoring chances on the year -- he's also playing the most of any player.

The Rangers better hope Girardi is ripping those numbers down -- there is a wealth of stats proving McDonagh's corsi drops significantly when paired with Girardi -- because there have been more than a few moments when McDonagh has looked like an average defenseman this year. That's a problem.

And when you can't afford to keep Keith Yandle because of those twin contract extensions above, that's a bigger problem.

Like I've said, I'm not sure what Gorton can do to fix these problems with Girardi and Staal have become unmovable -- I still think there's one or two teams that would taken them in a heartbeat -- but we don't know what he's doing.

All we can see is what's happening on the ice while nothing changes.