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Dan Girardi: Not doing so hot IMO

“Ask not for whom the blog tolls; the blog, it tolls for thee.” – John Donne

I have touched on this before, but our old friend Dan Girardi has been off to a bad start this season. To compare his on ice performance to a dumpster fire is an insult to dumpster fires everywhere. His raw Corsi (total percentage of shots on goal for/against; a 50% rating means you’re even) stats, per this tweet from Travis Yost, are 6th worst IN THE NHL. If you look at that list you’ll also notice that he has the highest total time on ice by quite a bit (he’s also typically amongst the minutes leaders for the Rangers every game), which concerns me because it means that not only is even strength possession number horrifying but he’s still being leaned on heavily by the coaching staff when the numbers strongly suggest that his usage needs to be pulled back significantly.

My thoughts on Girardi have been a little complicated. Possession numbers have never been kind to him, but as with all numbers they needed to be reviewed in the appropriate context. Girardi is constantly deployed against the other team’s best forwards, who, until this year, have seen their scoring rates drop when facing off against Girardi (For example, Ovechkin’s goals/game rate is about half as low as his career rate when facing the Rangers, and Girardi eats most of those minutes. I could look this up but I’m lazy and I will not. They mentioned it in the telecast during the last Rangers-Caps game and that’s good enough for me.). He also sees a lot of penalty kill minutes.

ACCORDING TO MY RESEARCH (don’t tell me I don’t work for you), from the beginning of the 2009-2010 season through the end of last year, he has averaged 23:48 of ice time per game. Considering he basically never misses time, he basically plays 30-something games in total ice time per year. And his minutes are HEAVY, man. All the shot blocking and hitting will wear a player down, especially considering Girardi isn’t an especially large guy (6’1″, 208 pounds listed, so assume both are lower).

It is hard for guys to play that many minutes season in and season out. Basically, it’s a skill that isn’t thought of that way, similar to durability and consistency. The problem is that Girardi isn’t outstanding athletically or skill-wise or skating-wise, if he declines at all it’s going to be hard for him to keep up with NHL-play. If he can’t keep up with NHL play, then who gives a shit if he has the endurance to play lots of minutes for almost every game in a season?

Which brings me to the problem: Girardi is having problems with basic NHL defenseman things, which would render one of his more valuable attributes essentially useless. One of the little things I keep noticing, every single game, is that he is having problems controlling the puck. Whether it’s along the boards or, worse, a clean open ice pass, Girardi is consistently mishandling passes. The reason this hurts is because, especially under pressure in your own zone, you get next to no time to play the puck in the NHL. Guys are on you immediately. When you flub a pass or mishandle a puck behind your own net, the other team gets on you and you either rush a pass (which usually is a bad one) or don’t move the puck at all (which allows a forecheck to continue). A lot of poor decisions Girardi has made with the puck have happened specifically because he’s not controlling the puck like a player in the NHL should.

Worse problem: he is making really brutal reads defensively. If you go to the Rangers’ team site and watch highlights and videos of some saves and goals allowed by Hank this year, you’ll notice Girardi pretty frequently ending up in spots that range from useless to outright dangerously bad. One that comes to mind is when Henrik Lundqvist made a save on a WIDE open Loui Eriksson in the first period against the Bruins on Friday afternoon. The Bruins win the faceoff, and then to his credit, Girardi blocks a shot. Next, the puck falls a few feet away from him and McDonagh flies up from Girardi’s left towards the player with the puck. As a defenseman, it’s Girardi’s responsibility to see his partner skating out to the high slot and immediately get back to the net front to make sure no one is open in the most dangerous area on the ice. Instead, he literally just stands still. Eriksson is wide open, his teammate makes an easy pass, and the only reason he doesn’t score is because our goalie is Henrik Lundqvist, praise be His name.

That is a single example chosen from many. Girardi’s play is a legitimate problem. The team has played over 20 games and this has been how he’s performed basically every single night. I realize I’m basically listing symptoms without giving a diagnosis, which I hate doing, but the way he’s playing makes me worry that Girardi may have lost a step and is now the dreaded “player at a different stage of his career,” which is a polite way of saying it’s about time to think about taking him out behind the woodshed. Hopefully he turns it around.

Let’s go Rangers.

The Rangers vs. Regression

“I’m from New York/Concrete jungle where blogs are made of/There’s nothing you can’t do/Now you’re in New York” – Alicia Keys

Despite some serious inconsistency in the team’s performances, the Rangers started the year off 10-2-2. That’s really good! Henrik Lundqvist has been the best goalie in the league so far! Guys like Oscar Lindberg and JT Miller are wildly outperforming expectations! Sure, guys like Nash (who’s been good otherwise) and Kreider (who’s been real bad) haven’t produced, but the overall lineup has averaged 3 goals a game! These are all good things, yes?

batman well actually

Oh no. No, no, no. Regression awaits. Fact. Death, taxes, and regression to the mean.

Lots of sites writers I enjoy have written pieces (like here and here) about the Rangers unflattering advanced statistics – 46.5% Corsi at 5 on 5 as it currently stands, 28th in the league – as if the team’s record is merely a house of cards waiting to be blown over by the wind from a flap of a hummingbird’s wing. The stat has been tracked long enough to show that a high Corsi (meaning here for the uninitiated) is usually a reliable predictor for team wins and success. Every year there’s a notable exception where a team excels and makes the playoffs despite having poor possession numbers – last year was Calgary, 2 years ago was Colorado, 3 years ago was Toronto, etc. Each of those teams came out of nowhere to succeed for a season defying the numbers then had (barring a major turnaround for Calgary this year) epic collapses the next year.

3 things:

  • First: my major problem with Corsi is that all shots are counted equally. That is categorically insane. An Ovechkin one-timer from the left side of the zone counts the exact same as a player weakly flubbing a backhander at the goal in an attempt to get a whistle. Not exactly iron-clad!
  • Second: the teams used as examples of Corsi regression victims all had one year of success out of nowhere then crashed back to Earth, and the Rangers do NOT fit that bill. The last 4 seasons have ended as such: Conference Finals, 2nd Round, Cup Finals, Conference Finals with half the defense missing at least one leg. One of these teams is not like the others, in a good way.
  • Third: Corsi is measured over all 60 minutes (or at least all 5 on 5 minutes) of a game regardless of the score, which also presents issues. The Rangers have gotten up by a few goals on teams early in games a couple time this year, and that drastically changes the way the game gets played. Consciously or not, all teams tend to play a drastically more conservative game; that requires opponents to play more aggressively, which consequently leaves them more vulnerable to counter-attacks off giveaways and mistakes. By nature a team that sits back that way is going to have an unflattering shot differential because they’re begging the other team to push the play. 2 of the Rangers worst Corsi games of the year were last week against Washington (went up 4-1 less than 7 minutes into the 2nd, – 29 Corsi differential) and Saturday against Arizona (up 3-0 just over 5 minutes into the 2nd, -16 Corsi differential) reflect that.

Since it’s ridiculous to poke holes in an argument without making your own proposal, here goes mine:

Step 1 is to view all advanced stats using only Close Score numbers. Close Score numbers reflect the statistics recorded during 5 on 5 play when the game score is tied, and when either team has a 1 goal lead in the 1st or 2nd period. This is when teams are both attempting to drive play and, in my opinion, give a better reflection of a team’s true effectiveness.

Step 2 is to take into account both the possession numbers like Corsi and High-Danger Scoring chances. This helps negate the Corsi issue in which the Michael Del Zotto Memorial 70-MPH Wrist Shot From the Point With No Traffic In Front (trademarked 2010) gets counted the same as Stamkos taking a clear path one-timer from the slot, as it provides context for how dangerous the shots taken were.

When viewed through this prism, the numbers for the Rangers this year have been just fine. Corsi at close scores is 50.6%. High-danger scoring chances at close scores are even better at 54.2%. Their overall possession stats are still a cause for concern, although that’s more because it points to how poorly the team has been in the defensive zone. We have years of evidence that show we should expect improvement on that front, but it should inspire some fear until we actually see that improvement. On the bright side, that fear is always tempered somewhat when you look in your net and Henrik Lundqvist is standing there. Advanced stats, as anyone who subscribes to them will tell you, are meant to complement what you see on the ice to give you a better understanding of performance.

The team’s play has been imperfect. Dropping into TOO much of a shell when you take a big lead isn’t the smartest move. I still worry about the play of Girardi and Boyle in the D-zone, Staal has been up and down, and McDonagh’s skating still isn’t at the level we’re used to. A couple forwards (KREIDER) have been straight up lost out there. Soon, team shooting percentage will drop by a few percentage points and Hank/Raanta’s combined save percentage will drop to something semi-human. PDO doesn’t stay at 106+ for 82 or more games.

When you build your team from the net out, as the Rangers have, sometimes you can get through these periods of at-times-uninspired play. It won’t be a formula for success come playoff-time, but the next 68 games are here for the team to work those kinks out. At this point, though, it seems to me like people are mistaking smoke for fire.

Carolina tonight. Since I wrote all this the Rangers will lose by 8. #LGR.

3 Early Observations

“My name is Ozymandias/Look upon my blogs, ye mighty, and despair.” Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

The Rangers’ season has, despite being less than 10 games in, already seen some interesting ups and downs. We’ve seen a 3 game winning streak, a 3 game losing streak, glorious goaltending from Lundqvist (and Raanta!), and some excellent coaching from AV. Now seems like a good time to make 3 observations about things we’ve seen so far, and since this is my goddamn blog that’s happening right now.

1. Dan Girardi looks… not great

As a fan of hockey and good stories, I’ve always loved Dan Girardi. If you’re unfamiliar with his background, I’d recommend watching this. His career is inspiring and he seems to be a great family man and teammate.

NOW. My least favorite roster move the Rangers have made over last 5 or so years was when the Rangers cut Anton Stralman loose to re-sign Dan Girardi (for more term and more money per year than Stralman approached the Rangers with at re-signing negotiations). I’m of the bold school of thought that when deciding which of 2 players to keep, it is unwise to keep the one who is older, not as good, and more expensive. Sather made plenty of great moves, but that one hurt my brain then and still does now. Stralman got Norris votes (the Norris trophy is awarded to the league’s top defenseman each year) last year and Girardi started to slow down a little as the FANCY STATS continued to reflect poorly on his performance (that’s even while he shares most of his minutes with McDonagh). So far this year, Girardi’s play has continued to slip. He is making awful decisions with the puck, continues to find himself out of position, and generally looking like a shell of the player from 2 years ago. Hopefully this improves, and if it doesn’t the Rangers may need to find a way to move him to another team.

2. Power play: still bad, dumb

The power play is bad and dumb (see above). To me there are 3 issues that stick out very obviously, and it’s weird because this has been the case every year of AV’s tenure.

First: the zone entries are absolutely horrendous. Considering the talent on this team, it is mind boggling how awful they are at getting across the blue line and setting up. It works the same way every time: wingers stand still on the blue line on each side of the ice easily checked by defenders. Defensemen slowly trail the play through the neutral zone. Whichever player has the puck is forced to attempt to skate through all the defensemen, who are available to easily take the puck away because the Ranger’s other 4 players are either A) standing still on the blue line or B) several feet out of the zone and unable to help. This is dumb, and the coaches must know that it’s dumb, and for the love of God make it stop.

Second: if they accidentally do get the power play set up, the players without the puck never. Fucking. Move. It’s infuriating. Every good power play involves heavy movement from every player who doesn’t have the puck, which gets the defense off balance and opens up extra passing lanes which then lead to quality scoring chances. That does not appear to be the plan. The plan appears to be based entirely around a player standing in front of the goalie, 2 players standing still against the half boards (a theme emerges!), 1 player in the middle of the 4-man box formation every PK uses, and the guy at the point skating around aimlessly then firing a shot off a defender’s skate or leg. Again, dumb.

Third: I don’t think the Rangers have a single player who can take an effective one timer. You don’t need to have Ovi or Stamkos ripping unstoppable bullets from the left dot, but even someone with a solid shot would be an improvement. I counted 2 goals on Power Play one-timers last year (yes, I am a weirdo), and considering how little turnover there was on the roster there is no reason to believe this year will be much better. The ability to get off quick shots when forcing the goalie to move side-to-side is a huge power play asset, and the Rangers have built a team that isn’t capable of creating or taking advantage of those chances. Bad.

3. Nash stuff!

Nash is an interesting player to me. He’s always scored a ton of goals, thus the reputation as a top scorer. But after watching him for a few years now, I feel like Nash is an A+ all-around player who isn’t a pure goal-scorer. His athleticism and anticipation are the reason he gets 75% of his goals.

He has an accurate but not heavy wrist shot, which is part of why half his goals are weirdly placed shots from just above the face-off dot that look like they came here in a time machine from 1980. When he gets breakaways, he VERY clearly picks his move before executing it and observing the goalie. Usually that’s a recipe for failure, but his reach is so big that his moves rarely fail. I can’t remember more than a couple goals of his that came on slap shots (and don’t get me goddamn started on one-timers). Nash basically manages to be such a smart player who does everything so well that he can’t help but score. When I want to teach my son how to play hockey one day, I’ll show him tape of Nash in order to learn about the right way to do everything on the ice EXCEPT how to score.

Also, am I alone for thinking he might pot a few more if he used a shorter stick? His reach is a major asset when it comes to puck control but he leaves a lot of goals on the table (especially in the playoffs) because he’s a split second late getting to a loose puck around the net. If his stick were a few inches shorter (phrasing!) he’d be on those pucks quicker and it might result in a few more of those garbage goals around the net. Says the moron with the blog.

THAT’LL BE ALL! Let’s go Rangers.

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