DEFENSE: C+. Deniably reliable. Will improve gradually to what we are used to seeing.

No one player in particular is holding the defense back, but it has been collectively sluggish out of the gate. AV has adjusted his pairings to stimulate some results-oriented chemistry within his vaunted defensive corps, but when 37% of the team’s cap hit is tied up, they have to be better. The defense have also contributed a collective 5G/16A per the score sheet, so that unit as a whole remains a viable threat when the puck is in the offensive zone, but they have also coughed up some untimely turnovers leading to goals.

Dan Girardi, who at 31 has 769 NHL starts to his credit since joining the big club in 2006-07 has been demoted to the 2nd pairing alongside Keith Yandle. Girardi, like Marc Staal and Ryan McDonagh, is rebounding from an off-season surgery which hampered his preparation season. Vigneault has been uncharacteristically vocal about individual players so far this season and was very clear about why the adjustment happened, saying on Friday “Kevin was playing so much better than Dan, we just made that switch.” (A. Gross)

Dan Girardi’s tally Sunday night proved to be the game-winning goal (in addition to his 200th career point) and Kevin Klein’s marker (2G) gave the team some breathing room. Keith Yandle has six points through ten games and has been a responsible defender.

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For all the flak he catches, Dan Boyle has not been that bad. He’s clearly overpaid due to a bad contract, but we can’t expect much out of a guy who has been playing since Dominik Hasek won a Hart Trophy. Blame his presence on the management and look for some of the good things he’s trying to do out there. It might help take your mind of the fact that Ryan McDonagh’s been invisible.

Last season, former Norris Trophy candidate Ryan McDonagh had a hall pass for a down year. He was A) recovering from a particularly nasty shoulder injury, and; B) proving he had the chops to bear that prominent red capital “C” on his sweater. That’s a big role for a young player, but McDonagh has distinguished himself on and off the ice as someone worthy of the privilege of leadership in that room. Now, it’s time to get back to the business of being a top-10 NHL defenseman and to lead by doing. When #27 is fully “on” and playing his complete game at full speed, his play lift Madison Square Garden off its foundations. He needs to be a bull in the ring this year, I suspect he knows it and that he’ll step it up, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Primary areas of concern with this group are: collective wear and tear after repeated seasons of deep playoff runs, two turnover-prone offensive defensemen in Boyle and Yandle and a lack of trustworthy depth. AV opted to keep former first-round draft pick (2010) Dylan McIlrath on the roster coming out of camp, which caused veteran depth defender Raphael Diaz to be assigned. Common sense should have dictated that Diaz – who is seasoned, versatile and very familiar with the Rangers from his time here in 2013-14 – be kept and McIrath waived, but the Rangers organization has invested a lot of time in “Project Undertaker” over the past five years and seem determined to make good on his selection.

Regarding the depth issue, we are likely to see movement before the end of the week. With Tanner Glass’ assignment to Hartford, the Rangers now have an available 23rd roster spot should AV decide to bring Diaz back into the fold, vice losing him to release and watching him leave for Europe. It wont be a permanent solution, but we haven’t seen the back half of the Glass move happen yet and the end of the month is coming.

The big picture takeaway at this point is that as long as McDonagh, Girardi and Staal are physically recovered, the defense should return to the top-tier form with which we are familiar. A full season (likely the only full season we will get out of him) of Keith Yandle will likely yield 40+ points and *hopefully* an improved power play – though I wouldn’t hold my breath on that. Kevin Klein? Not going anywhere. He’s too valuable and too locked in. Stop praying that Dan Boyle is going away, too. Hockey God isn’t listening.

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