Rangers Showing Signs Of Improvement?November 11, 2011, by
The Rangers seem to be doing more right than they are doing wrong these days and for the first time this season, the majority of fans are starting to see the bigger picture.
From day one we’ve been preaching patience, defending Sather and Tortorella till we were blue in the face over roster decisions, line permutations, tactics, etc. Lucky for us, the team is progressing just as we pontificated it would.
Below are some key points laying out how this team is improving and why you may need to start drinking our Kool-Aid.
One of the biggest offseason needs was acquiring someone who could win faceoffs. The Rangers obviously made a major upgrade in signing Brad Richards, but the silver lining has been the progress of Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov, especially on the draw.
Over the summer I was challenged by the stat geeks when I suggested that Stepan could potentially increase his faceoff winning percentage from last year’s abysmal 38.5% to the mid to high 40’s. I was told Step would have to defy averages and typical trends to hit those numbers. Well fast forward to today and he’s winning 46.7%.
Anisimov too has improved at faceoffs. This season he’s winning 49.5% compared to 44.5% last year.
Part of this progression can be associated with how well Torts deploys his matchups (yes, that’s a compliment), but another part of it just has to do with their overall development. As they learn to better read stick positioning, opponent tendencies, not to mention the fact that they’re still growing into their bodies; it’s easy to see why a ceiling shouldn’t be placed on their potential.
Side note – If you are interested in specific faceoff tactics, I humbly suggest you check out our post here.
More Discipline or Less Fatigue?
A couple of weeks back everyone was getting on the Rangers for their perceived lack of discipline. According to the “experts,” this was supposedly a direct reflection of their coach.
I didn’t point fingers at Torts for the team’s bad penalties then and I won’t give him a thumbs up now that they’re avoiding the box. What has really caused the change in PIM has not to do with coaching, but more to do with an end to the fatigue and hectic schedules.
Earlier in the season the Rangers obviously hadn’t found their game yet, partly due to working out early season kinks, but more or less because of travel fatigue and lack of practice time. As a result, the team was constantly getting beat to the puck, so a lot of reaching fouls ensued.
Once the Rangers began their home stand and got their legs back, they were no longer a step behind the play and they no longer had to hook and grab to slow down the opposition.
Finally, the Rangers are playing better defense without having to block 15-20 shots a night like they did a season ago. Girardi has been solid in all three zones, McDonagh and MDZ are getting the puck up ice, Sauer is doing what Sauer does best, and even Woywitka has had his moments. Once this team gets Staal back, the Rangers could have arguably one of the best defenses in the Eastern Conference.
Of course not every facet of our game has greatly improved. The Rangers have shown sporadic efforts of puck possession and they have yet to really capitalize on their chances, especially on the power play. Though to date, we have yet to see the Rangers top 3 lines play to their potential simultaneously. Once we can get them all rolling, the Rangers will be a very tough team to beat.