One area where the Rangers have excelled during the regular season matchups against the Flyers is their play against the orange and black’s most prolific player, Claude Giroux. Giroux has been held to two assists and only four shots on goal in the team’s four regular season matchups. If the Rangers expect to advance past the Flyers in this NHL playoff series, they will need to continue their strong play against Giroux.
It comes as no surprise, the key matchup with likely be Giroux versus the Rangers top defensive pair of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. However, that matchup is a recent occurrence. In fact, the Rangers coaching staff didn’t start matching their top pair against Giroux until the team’s 4th meeting. In the previous three meetings, the Rangers coaching staff chose to deploy McDonagh and Girardi mostly against Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn; leaving Giroux to Marc Staal and Anton Stralman.
As you can see by the chart, this strategy changed dramatically in the final regular season meeting when McDonagh and Girardi were on the ice for 11 of Giroux’s 17.7 even strength minutes. As you can also see, Giroux’s possession numbers took a nose dive.
The final regular season game is clearly a deliberate effort of the coaching staff to match Giroux with the McDonagh and Girardi pair. Games 2 and 3, which were a home and home, saw McDonagh and Girardi play roughly the same amount of minutes against Giroux. So the advantage of last change really didn’t factor in. My best guess is the Rangers coaching staff was cognizant of the fact that Giroux was struggling mightily early in the season and chose to look at him as a secondary threat in game 1. In games 2 and 3, the coaching staff seemed comfortable with more-or-less splitting minutes between the two pairs against Giroux.
That is obviously no longer the case. Giroux will see heavy doses of McDonagh and Girardi throughout the series if game 4 was any indication of what’s to come. The minutes may change when the venue switches to Philadelphia and Flyers head coach Craig Berube tries to create a favorable matchup for his star player. But I have a lot of confidence in Alain Vigneault’s ability to outcoach his rookie counterpart on the other bench. The wild-card will be how healthy Ryan McDonagh actually is.