“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.