‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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Without any prodding, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault described 24-year-old defenseman Ryan McDonagh as a genuine Norris Trophy candidate.
“He’s been a force out there,” Vigneault said. “He’s got to be getting some consideration for the Norris, the way he’s playing offensively and defensively. He’s playing against the top lines, defending extremely well. He’s been honestly one of our best players this year.”
McDonagh extended his points streak to five games as his dominant two-way play helped the Rangers complete a crucial 3-1 victory over the division-rival Philadelphia Flyers. The rock-solid blue liner’s offensive aptitude has grown in leaps and bounds this season. McDonagh has tallied 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in his last 13 games, and is tied for fifth among all NHL defensemen with 14 goals this season.
His goal tally is the most by a Rangers defenseman since beloved Garden icon Brian Leetch scored 21 goals in the 2000-01 season. McDonagh currently has 43 points in 74 games this season.
Vigneault has complete trust in McDonagh to pick and choose the correct times to join the attack.
“He’s got that green light all the time,” Vigneault said.
That’s because it’s extremely rare to see McDonagh getting caught in a bad position. He has a tremendous ability to read how plays are developing and pinch at the right times. McDonagh’s development is on a constant upward trajectory. He is one of the most cerebral defensemen in the league and uses his all-world skating ability and intelligence to his full advantage.
McDonagh is indeed having the season of his life. Longtime teammate Derek Stepan has studied McDonagh closely at the collegiate, international and professional level. Stepan sees a transformation in McDonagh’s game due to his growing confidence.
“His game has just blossomed because of the fact he’s able to be more confident with the puck,” Stepan said. “…It’s something that I’ve seen with Mac since I’ve started with him. It’s no secret that defensively he’s very difficult to beat and he’s probably one of the best defensive defensemen. Now, you guys are going to get to see a little bit of his offensive side. He’s got a big offensive swing to him.
“It hasn’t really shined as much as it is this year, but it’s been there the whole time. He’s going to continue to grow as a defenseman.”
The Norris Trophy is annually awarded to the defenseman “who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.” McDonagh certainly fits the criteria, but the award has often gone to more statically-dominant defensemen in recent seasons.
Unfortunately, his game isn’t “sexy” enough to grab the attention of some voters. That’s a shame because McDonagh rarely puts a foot wrong when he’s on the ice.
KEITH IS THE NORRIS FAVORITE
Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith has a jaw-dropping 57 points in 72 games. Keith is the favorite to win the Norris, but unlike McDonagh he does not excel in the shutdown game.
Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson has a freakish 69 points in 72 games, but has a “Jekyll and Hyde” ability to cost the Sens when he is not in possession of the puck. Karlsson isn’t even remotely interested in his defensive responsibilities.
St. Louis Blues teammates Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk are both in the running, but neither has separated himself from McDonagh offensively, and the pair isn’t nearly as dominant as McDonagh is in the defensive zone. Same goes from Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings.
Teammate Brian Boyle strongly feels that McDonagh’s name should be firmly entrenched in the Norris Trophy conversation.
“I think he should be in (consideration) right now,” Boyle said. “It’s amazing for how big and strong he is, how quick he is and how well he reads the play. I’m glad he’s on our team. He gives guys fits, I know that.”
FOURTH LINE FUELING RANGERS
The Rangers’ fourth line of Boyle-Dominic Moore-Derek Dorsett is firing on all cylinders. The line has brought consistent energy, in-sync cycling and strong forechecking.
“I’m a little biased. I think our fourth line is one of the best in the league,” Stepan said. “Moving forward, we’re going to need them. They’re going to be a big part of us having success down the stretch here.”
Moore and Dorsett each scored on Wednesday night. Dorsett opened the scoring at 8:41 of the first period. Dorsett has locked down his place on the fourth line after a lengthy absence due to a broken fibula.
“Dorse played really well tonight,” linemate Moore said. “He got in on the forecheck. He’s got great legs and it’s great to see him get rewarded.”
ST. LOUIS STILL WITHOUT A GOAL IN 12 GAMES AS A RANGER
Prior to Wednesday’s game, winger Martin St. Louis admitted that he wasn’t able to sweat for the past three days because of dehydration. St. Louis is finally over the flu, and his body is reacting a lot more normally.
“It’s nice to eat, drink and sweat,” he said.
“You try to do everything you can to help the team,” St. Louis said at Wednesday’s practice. “It’s a crucial time of the year; it’s tough to sit home and not try as much as you can.”
Despite battling sickness and not scoring a goal in 12 games as a Ranger, St. Louis is doing a lot of things right in all areas of the ice. Teammates are studying him closely and listening to his wisdom on the bench.
Even considering his own experience, Rick Nash is still trying to learn things by watching the distinguished 38-year-old.
“That’s one of the best forwards in the game,” Nash said. “He’s one of the best forwards in the NHL. It’s fun to play with Marty. He’s won Stanley Cups, he’s won scoring titles. You can always learn from a guy like that.”
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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