When the Rangers signed Ruslan Fedotenko out of his PTO last year, it was a hotly debated topic. In fact, it spawned one of our most controversial and most active posts at that time, and it even led to a bet with me and a Penguins fan. I lost the bet (Fedotenko didn’t get to 15 goals), but it didn’t matter: Fedotenko was one of the best offseeason bargains of the 2010-2011 season.
His play earned him another one year contract for this season, and very few could see any downside in that. His chemistry with Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust was evident, and to be honest, the Rangers needed bodies to fill out the roster. However, this year the Ruslan Fedotenko that we knew last year is nowhere to be found. He seems to be gripping his stick a little too tight, and more often than not we are seeing him fan on shots, or just shank them altogether.
The good news is that Fedotenko’s defensive play has still been stellar. He is second on the team in regards to quality of competition faced (QUALCOMP of .060), while playing with the second worst quality of teammates (QUALTEAM of -.366). His Relative Corsi (a stat reflective of puck possession) is not good (-17.4), meaning that there are more shots directed at the Rangers net when he is on the ice as opposed to off the ice. His Corsi isn’t indicative of much though, considering the quality of opponents and teammates he plays with.
Looking at his starts and finishes in the offensive zone, Fedotenko starts 44.4% of his shifts in the offensive zone, but finishes 47.3% of his shifts in the offensive zone. To analyze this with his Corsi (puck possession), what this means is that although Fedotenko starts less than 50% of his shifts in the offensive zone, he still manages to finish more shifts in the offensive zone, despite not having puck possession for the majority of the shift. To break this down further, basically Fedotenko’s shifts consist of containing top competition from scoring, gaining puck control, gaining the zone, then dumping the puck for a change. It’s a tough job, but someone needs to do it. And Fedotenko does it just fine.
However, that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. Fedotenko has been demoted to fourth line duties with Prust and the newly acquired/returned Mike Rupp, and played just nine shifts in last night’s win over the Islanders (a total of 5:32 in ice time). This is down from his 14 shifts and 9:19 in ice time against the Devils on Tuesday, and 19/13:33 in Phoenix. It’s tough to really explain the lack of ice time, other than John Tortorella’s style of not playing his fourth line too much. That’s not to place blame on the coach per se, but it is a potential explanation nonetheless.
It’s the coaches job to find the right mix of lines and ice time that get the team going. The Rangers have won three in a row heading into tonight’s pre-Winter Classic showdown with the Flyers, where Fedotenko will presumably have his hands full with the Claude Giroux line. But for those, including myself, asking what exactly is wrong with Fedotenko, the answer is nothing. The biggest difference is that we don’t see it on the stat sheet. Fedotenko is still an important cog on the machine that is the Rangers. Defensive play is often understated and underappreciated, and it appears to be the case with Fedotenko this season.