To say Dmitri Kalinin is in a defensive slump - minus-2 in Wednesday's 3-2 overtime win at Atlanta, a minus-2 in a 3-0 loss to Calgary, a minus-3 in a 6-2 loss at Montreal and minus-17 for the season - would be putting it mildly.
The problem may be as simple as a square peg in a round team. The stronger part of Kalinin's game has always been what he brings to the rush, not the way he defends against it. You can see it when he's on the ice, he's looking for chances to go forward, he likes venturing deeper into the opponent's zone. Unfortunately for him and for the Rangers, that's not what the Rangers' system is asking him to do.
But on top of that, or maybe as a result, it could be that much of the confidence an NHL player needs on a game-to-game basis, as eroded for Kalinin. Just speculation here but it would make sense.
The confidence factor can't be overlooked in assessing any individual's play.
"It's always big, whether you're a forward, a defenseman, a goalie or a coach," defenseman Michal Rozsival said. "Confidence is something that's really hard to gain and easy to lose."
"It's huge," defenseman Wade Redden said of the need to play with confidence. "When you're playing with confidence, you're not thinking. You're just playing and being aggressive. When you hesitate for a split second, that's all it takes."
Redden said the way to build confidence back up is by simplifying your game, concentrating on the small areas you need to take care of. For the most part, every player instinctively knows that. The downside is, it's not something that another player can instill for you by giving you a pep talk.
"It's got to come from within," Redden said. "I don't think you want to tell a guy how to do things a certain way. It's just a mindset. You have to draw from experience. Guys go through it all the time."
(By the way, if you've read this far and noticed there are no Kalinin notes, you would be correct. While many, including me, might consider Kalinin quotes vital for this topic, I missed Kalinin in the dressing room today because I also needed to talk to Markus Naslund.)
Kalinin is currently paired with Paul Mara but has also played with Rozsival and Dan Girardi this season.
"Maybe it's moving around through partners, it's hard to say," Rangers coach Tom Renney said of Kalinin's recent play. "I can't reallly put my finger on it. Some of it is bad luck but you create bad luck, too. The bottom line for him is to keep his game simple, move the puck and quickly position himself within the dots, work off his partner well. It's the fundamentals of playing the position, quite honestly. It doesn't just come to a needlehead to Dmitri. As five skaters over the ice the last five or six games, quite honestly, we have been up and down and we have compromised each other. As long as we play a more complete game, collectively, as five people, we'll certainly give him an opportunity to climb out of that minus section and that's what we want to do."