Previously, we went through each Rangers’ forwards and gave them a letter grade based on their performance thus far.
Over the past few years, the defensive structure has been a work in progress for New York.
This year, under new defensive coach Jaques Martin, things are looking up. And with players like K’Andre Millier and Adam Fox coming into their own, things are only looking up from here.
As for goaltending, it’s the first year without Henrik Lundqvist anchoring the group. And with one of the many Blueshirts injuries this year coming to Igor Shesterkin, we’ve seen our fair share of Alexander Georgiev and Keith Kinkaid.
Here are the midyear report cards for the Rangers blueline and goalies.
Stats: 1G, 2A, 3P – 9 GP
It’s a bit of a small sample size to truly evaluate Bitetto. He took fans by storm when he scored his first goal in over 2 years – since the 2017-18 season – but because of injury, has not played much since. For this reason, I’m going to leave him with a “no grade” until (if) he gets some more playing time.
Grade: No Grade
Stats: 3G, 23A, 26P – 31 GP
There truly aren’t enough good things to say about Adam Fox this year. He’s taken on a huge new role and has developed into an incredibly versatile player – he kills penalties, he quarterbacks the Rangers’ first powerplay unit and provides a strong two-way game 5-on-5. Against the Flyers in the Rangers’ 8-3 victory on Thursday, Fox racked up five assists.
Recently, the NHL came out with their top candidates thus far for the Norris Trophy. It received a boatload of criticism, and rightfully so – Fox’s name deserves to be in the conversation. He is too often overlooked for his point production and not given nearly enough credit for the all-around defender he has become – one of the top ones on the Blueshirts.
Stats: 1G, 1A, 2P – 22 GP
Hajek wasn’t given much of a chance to begin the 2020-21 season, with Jack Johnson – much to Rangers fans’ dismay – taking his spot for the most part. But since Johnson has been injured, Hajek has taken a larger role in the Rangers’ lineup.
And he’s handled it well – he had a shaky start, but Hajek has been pretty solid defensively thus far.
He’s shown strides of improvement on the defensive side of his game in comparison to last year. However, with his ice time being on the lower side (he played just 8:42 against Washington on March 20th), we’ll have to wait and see how Hajek will handle a larger workload going forward.
Stats: 1G, 1A, 1P – 13 GP
Johnson, known notoriously for his poor analytics and even worse defensive game (by eye-test), has pretty much played to the standard that many Rangers fans expected him to. Recently, however, underwent a successful hernia surgery a week ago, and will be sidelined for the rest of this season.
He missed nearly three weeks with a groin injury earlier this season, so it’s safe to say injury has also factored into his poor play.
Stats: 0G, 9A, 9P – 32 GP
This year is a big one for Ryan Lindgren, and he’s been impressive. The pairing with Fox is just what the Rangers need – with Fox being the smaller, more skilled, and offensively orientated player, Lindgren’s aggressive and gritty defensive game compliments him well. Lindgren plays hard yet smart (but still manages to acquire a bleeding wound every game).
Nevertheless, I believe wholeheartedly that the Fox-Lindgren pairing is the future of the Rangers blueline, and Lindgren is, obviously a huge part of it.
Stats: 3G, 5A, 8P – 29 GP
Miller is another key part of the future. It was originally a question mark on whether or not he would make the opening night roster/be a regular starter, but he’s stomped on any doubters thus far. Miller, playing alongside Jacob Trouba, has shone bright his rookie year. Not only is he a regular first/second pair d-man, but he’s also averaging just over 20 minutes per night – even playing as much as 24 minutes back on March 15th against the Flyers.
Miller has also gotten some time on the power play (the second unit, with Trouba) as well as the new and improved NYR penalty kill. Overall, Miller has been really solid, and will only continue to develop into a complete NHL defenseman.
Stats: 2G, 3A, 5P – 25 GP
Smith started out the season as a healthy scratch but has had to come in and play alongside a multitude of d-partners due to the many Rangers injuries. Juggling defensive partners are not easy – we saw Trouba, Hajek, former-Ranger Brady Skjei, and even Fox shuffle through many partners last season. It caused some havoc defensively and prevented any true chemistry from forming. Recently, though, Smith has been playing alongside and mentoring the young Hajek and has adapted well.
There haven’t been any true glaring errors made by Smith and has also been a big part of the Rangers penalty kill. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was shipped out at the deadline for some picks, as he is set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Stats: 1G, 7A, 8P – 24 GP
Trouba, after signing a massive contract with the Rangers in the 2019 offseason, disappointed many with his play in the 2019-20 season. This year, also taking on a new role as an alternate captain, he’s shown great improvement.
As one of the veterans on defense, he has been able to take on a more defensive-oriented role, less pressured to make an impact on offense while playing alongside an explosive offensive player like Miller.
Trouba also seems much more sound defensively to the eye but will need to continue to improve in order to rid himself of the people that constantly bring up his large salary.
Stats: 5-5-2, 2.92 GAA, .897 SV%
Georgiev has been shaky in the crease thus far. Coming off a strong 2019-20 campaign, where he posted a .910 SV%, it seemed pretty clear that Georgiev would be the perfect backup to Shesterkin. He’s put up a couple of questionable performances, including allowed 3 goals on 6 shots against Boston on March 11th, and 4 goals on 20 shots against New Jersey on January 19th (Georgiev was pulled out of both games).
It’s raised some questions about whether or not Georgiev is a viable backup to Shesterkin for the future.
Stats: 3-1-1, 2.22 GAA, .908 SV%
Kinkaid has been a pleasant surprise thus far for the Rangers. With Shesterkin’s groin injury, he emerged as the backup for Georgiev but has turned some heads. He earned his first shutout since 2018 back on March 13th against the Bruins, and a .966 SV% performance against Washington on March 20th.
Kinkaid entered the season on the taxi squad, unlikely to get into many games, but has now presented another question – could he fit the backup position behind Shesterkin?
Stats: 7-7-1, 2.36 GAA, .922 SV%
Riddled by injury, Shesterkin has had a tough 2020-21 campaign so far. He has certainly faced a ton of critics, some of who have questioned his ability to be the long-term number-one goalie for the Blueshirts. There’s no doubt in my mind that Shesterkin can be that guy – this year is extremely different and difficult, between COVID-19 protocols, injuries, and being rushed into the starting position.
Despite his record, Shesterkin’s save percentage has been really solid, and he has had some really solid performances as of late. He doesn’t look quite like he did in his few games last year, but I am certain that Shesterkin can reach that level of play again.
And in case you want to get ready for the Rangers vs Flyers matchup on Saturday, here are all 17 of the Rangers’ goals against the Flyers in their recent 9-0 and 8-3 victories:
Featured Image: ---