With a playoff spot clinched, we are running a new series about turning points in the season. These posts will focus on moves the Rangers made that effectively turned their season from mediocre to great.
On November 24, the Rangers had lost two games in a row to the Montreal Canadiens and Florida Panthers. It wasn’t so much that the Rangers lost the games, it was that they were getting beat to every single loose puck in those games. They looked slow, and even looked slow in their six wins prior to those losses. The two players made an immediate impact, and the Rangers won their next five in a row, including three in a row against Washington, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh.
But those wins weren’t just ordinary wins. The Rangers looked faster, and for good reason. Hagelin and Mitchell eventually replaced the revolving door of Erik Christensen, Wojtek Wolski, and Sean Avery (with a little Andre Deveaux as well). Only Avery had some sort of speed out of that trio. Their success paved the way for the removal of all three spare parts (and distractions) from the Rangers locker room, permanently. It was not only addition by speed, but addition by subtraction.
It wasn’t just speed though. Something was different. Both players immediately bought into the John Tortorella system of forechecking, two way hockey, and grinding out games. The Rangers had the puck more often, and it showed. Their time of possession in the offensive zone shot up noticeably, and the Rangers were generating more offense off the physical offensive zone play. They had the puck more, it’s as simple as that, and it was mainly due to Mitchell and Hagelin.
Puck possession is an easy enough metric to figure out, as it’s defined by the stat Corsi. Corsi is a stat that counts the number of shots directed at your net (missed, blocked, saved, or goals) versus the number of shots directed at your opponents net (missed, blocked, saved, or goals) while a specific player is on the ice. All shot attempts for – all shot attempts against = Corsi. Essentially, the more shots directed at your opponents net, the more you have the puck, and vice versa.
Relative Corsi (I’m going to abbreviate this as RCorsi) takes Corsi to a different level. Generally speaking, the better teams in the league will dominate Corsi. RCorsi accounts for this, and takes the Corsi of the player (as described above) and subtract the Corsi of the team when that player is off the ice. This makes for a more balanced measure of puck possession, as it eliminates the team concept and focuses solely on the player, and how he affects the team.
Now that we’ve explained RCorsi, it’s easy to see why Hagelin and Mitchell were instrumental to the Rangers long term success. They boast the two highest RCorsi among forwards on the team. Mitchell’s RCorsi is 13.1, and Hagelin’s is 12.6. To really put a value to this, the next best Ranger is Brandon Dubinsky at 8.5 RCorsi. Brad Richards sit’s in 4th at 2.7 RCorsi.
What’s even more impressive about their RCorsi is that Hagelin starts less than 50% of his shifts in the offensive zone (46.5%) and Mitchell is barely above 50% offensive zone starts (51.1%).
The best part is that these guys are showing they made a difference on the ice and on the scoreboard. Despite playing 20 fewer games than the rest of the team, Hagelin still sits in the top five in scoring on the team (14-23-37). Average that out over a full 72 games thus far for the Rangers, and that’s 18-30-48. That’s Calder discussion worthy. As for Mitchell, he has 15 points (5-10-15) while playing mostly checking line duties.
The Rangers didn’t just call up two AHL guys, they called up two difference makers. These two almost single-handedly righted the ship for the Rangers in what could have been a disastrous stretch. Just think Mitchell was acquired from Toronto for a 7th round pick, and Hagelin was a 6th round pick in 2008. Not bad Mr. Sather.