The mess that is special teamsFebruary 7, 2013, by
In case you’ve missed it, and I”m sure you haven’t, the Rangers special teams have been abysmal to start the season. The Rangers are currently at a league-worst 8.6% conversion rate on the powerplay, which is pretty pathetic when you look at the personnel they deploy. The Blueshirts are also in the bottom half of the league with a 78% success rate on the penalty kill, which is good for 17th in the league.
Addressing the PK first, which is the easier of the two to address, the Rangers are victims of two things here: A slow start from Henrik Lundqvist, and a rotating bottom six that saw two major penalty killers depart for greener (literally) pastures. It’s no coincidence that the PK suffers while Hank is off to a slow start. Your best penalty killer is your goalie, and when he struggles, the PK struggles.
As for the roster turnover, this was somewhat expected, but not to this extent. Carl Hagelin and Rick Nash –who were both solid penalty killers with their previous teams– were supposed to take over when Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko left. Hagelin has had a slow start to the year, and Nash is still adjusting to Torts’ system. It also didn’t help that Jeff Halpern couldn’t win a face off in January.
That problem may have been rectified by dealing dead-weight (on the ice) Mike Rupp for Darroll Powe, who is a lot like Brandon Prust in terms of style of play. It will also alleviate itself once Hank returns to form. The PK may be an issue, but it’s an issue that will dissipate over time. The real issue is the powerplay.
When the Rangers deploy Nash, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, and Carl Hagelin on the powerplay (along with others), then they are expected to take advantage with the man advantage. They have not, and it’s becoming a disturbing trend. Each year the powerplay seems to get worse, despite adding one superstar forward per year.
The powerplay is going to be critical to the success of the Rangers this year, especially in a shortened season. We all see what the issues are: No quality shots, no player movement, no one going to the net, etc. That said, the Rangers have at least had good puck movement, which is the only real silver lining here.
It’s no secret that I’m not exactly the biggest fan of Mike Sullivan, who runs the powerplay. When something doesn’t work for three straight years, and the only consistent factor is the coach, then something has to give. It doesn’t help that his star players –Gaborik, Nash, Richards– are doing diddly on the powerplay, but they shouldn’t be getting to a point where Brian Boyle is on the first unit.
Unlike the penalty kill, this issue with the powerplay will not resolve itself with time. It may be time for a new PP strategy, as the umbrella just doesn’t seem to be working anymore. But the Rangers aren’t skilled enough for a 1-3-1, and only one unit can really run an overload with success. A spread won’t be used unless the Rangers can get Taylor Pyatt and Ryan Callahan in front of the net, so we are left with the umbrella.
Since a new strategy won’t work, and the players/coaches aren’t going anywhere, it’s up to both of them to figure it out. More movement, more shots, and less excuses. There is absolutely no reason why the Columbus Blue Jackets have a better powerplay than the Rangers.