Kevin’s DEKLEIN has impacted Girardi and defense the most
It has not worked out that way.
Back Against the Wall
Before the season opener, Klein suffered back spasms and had a subsequent MRI. He missed the team’s first three games due to a back strain. Upon his return, he was averaging over 20 minutes per game and was partnered again with Marc Staal. In that 4 game span he and Staal struggled and were a combined minus 4. Offensively, Staal generated 1 assist for the unit. Slowly, AV started reducing his minutes.
Meanwhile, the injury put Dan Girardi right back on the top pairing with Ryan McDonagh until he went down with a hip flexor against St. Louis in game 2. Upon his return (10/23), he was paired with Skjei but would be reunited with McDonagh as he and Nick Holden were not gelling. Thus the familiar 5/27 were reunited on 10/28 against Carolina.
DEKLEIN EFFECTAfter a horrible loss in Carolina (10/28) where the Staal and Klein pairing were a combined -4, they were broken up and the unit of Staal with Nick Holden was created in a win against TB on 10/30. The pairing was a combined plus 6 with Holden registering an assist. They’ve been together ever since. Staal suffered an injury against Buffalo that led him to miss last night’s win versus Philly and Saturday’s contest against Columbus at the very least. The pair should be reunited upon his return.
Kevin Klein unfortunately hasn’t been really able to right himself. He has bounced around between Brady Skjei and Ryan McDonagh with no real improvement. Instead of playing important increased minutes he is averaging just 17:38, putting more pressure on Dan Girardi to play minutes his aging body and slower legs aren’t able to. To date, Girardi is playing 1:24 less per game then he did last season at 18:55. Yet he still ranks 4th on the Rangers defense in ice time, and that’s thankfully due to the resurgence of Marc Staal and the surprise play of Nick Holden.
The hope and expectation was that he’d rank 5th and get spotted the occasional game to rest. Thanks to Klein’s inexplicable regression, that hasn’t been able to happen.
How Bad Is Klein’s Decline?
To be honest, it seems to be getting worse in the last few weeks, but one startling number stands out. Last season Klein’s goals against per 60 minutes of play (GA60) was 1.84. It is now an alarming 2.69. His offensive output is roughly the same with a GF60 of 2.58 versus 2.55 last season. Still, he’s on the ice for too many goals against.
This has also led to a change in his deployment. Aside from not being a top pair defenseman and losing his longtime partner, Staal – AV has started him less in the defensive zone. Matter of fact, he ranks dead last of any Rangers blue liner who has played more than 10 games. For perspective, he was ranked 3rd last year behind Girardi and McDonagh.
To make matters worse, his offensive production is drastically down as well. He was producing at a 1.02 points per 60 rate, and is now down to .62 and falling.
Girardi Playing Better?Girardi opened the season with 3 goals and 6 points in his first 12 games. It certainly masked a few of his defensive issues. However, with Klein’s rapid regression and decreased minutes, Girardi began to struggle.
His worst stretch came in late December where he was a -8 in a 6 game stretch. Included in those games were the drubbings by Pittsburgh and Minnesota. To Alain Vigneault‘s credit, he started to reduce Girardi’s ice time. It showed in last night’s win against Philadelphia where Girardi was one of the Rangers better defenseman and had an assist in his 22 minutes of work.
Credit should also go to Nick Holden who has proven to be everyone’s best defense partner as of late. The injury to Staal led to the increase in Girardi’s playing time yesterday but if AV’s smart he will get him back to 18 or less as soon as Staal returns.
Is There A Solution?
If Kevin Klein’s back issues have not fully gone away then the simple answer is to scratch him and play Adam Clendening. If this regression is here to stay, then Klein has become a huge monkey wrench in to what the Rangers original plans were.
Playing Girardi less and in better situations becomes increasingly harder now. The Rangers don’t have great options on the right side. This means the only real solutions are out there in the trade market. It is market that has yet to formulate and could come at very steep price.
The Rangers will need to weigh the risk/reward of parting with a forward like J.T. Miller in order to fix this defense. Of course, the other solution is that Rick Nash, Mika Zibanejad, and Pavel Buchnevich return so the Rangers are whole again. It must need to be that the Rangers best defense is having a good offense.
Better options and fixes await the Rangers this summer in the form of free-agency. That’s the path they should take. For now, reducing the playing time of Klein and keeping Girardi in a position to succeed are a priority. Brady Skjei will have to grow up quicker and Clendening will need to be better in his own zone for this all to work out.