Feb
18

Rangers one-two punch at center key to their success

February 18, 2016, by
Brass and Step (Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

Brass and Step (Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Rangers have been up and down pretty frequently this season, but lately they’ve been up. The team has won 6 of their last 8 games, dating back to January 25th against Buffalo, despite missing Rick Nash for around a month now and Ryan McDonagh since the game against Philadelphia in which he sustained a concussion. Suffice to say the Rangers are persevering, finding ways to win and making a case for themselves as one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.

As always this is a multifaceted phenomenon, with Lundqvist’s goaltending, JT Miller’s offensive production, and Keith Yandle’s overall form being major factors, but one of the things that’s flown under the radar lately has been the one-two punch of their top centermen, Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan.

Both centers have been producing offensively as of late, with Stepan putting up 3-4-7 in his last 8 games, including two 2-point games, and Brassard logging 4-7-11 points in the same frame. Stepan remains one of the best puck distributors on the team, dishing often from behind the net and subtly finding Dominic Moore for his two on one goal against Pittsburgh, but against Philly the other night we saw that he can still finish with the best of them, finding the net on two occasions and recording his 100th career goal in the process.

Brassard has been equally good on distribution and perhaps a bit flashier, finding the space to set up JT Miller’s goal against Minnesota and scoring a nice wraparound goal to open the scoring against the Flyers the other night. Altogether this kind of production, with two lines clicking from the center out, makes the Rangers a tough team to play against by forcing teams to make difficult choices in terms of defensive coverage.

The underlying numbers reflect this uptick in production as well, indicating what we can all see – that the on-ice process is improving and that Brass and Step are both a part of that improvement. At even strength for example Stepan’s average CF% over the last 8 games is 52.2% and his SCF% is 52.6 with the latter number relative to his teammates being 1.64. This indicates that Stepan is not only a positive possession player lately, but that he’s helping to generate meaningful offense as well.

Brassard’s numbers have been similarly, if not better. At 5 on 5 Brassard has logged an average CF% of 53.1%, an average SCF% of 58.2% and a relative SCF% of 7.4%. It is worth noting however that Brassard’s PDO in all situations over these past 8 games is 109.3, which compared to Stepan’s PDO of 101.3 indicates that perhaps Brassard’s recent form has a little bit more to do with luck than Stepan. Still though, his underlying numbers are good, so even if the goals dry up we can still expect positive things when he’s on the ice.

The two players have even tightened up defensively, adding to their on-ice utility. Over the last 8 games Stepan and Brassard’s CA/60 at even strength are 55.1 and 49.9 respectively. These two numbers are down for each player, with their respective season averages being 56.5 and 56.7 CA/60, indicating that the Rangers are giving up less shot attempts when each of them is on the ice than is typical this season. While a lot of this has to do with the Rangers’ recent turn of form (and how bad they were at giving up shot attempts early on in the season) it’s still nice to see some improvement on the defensive side as well, especially given the kinds of defensive responsibilities centers often have.

All of this is to say that while the Rangers recent run has been fueled by a lot of things, it’s important to note the role their top two centers have played. Both Stepan and Brassard have had their fair share of highlights as of late, with the underlying numbers indicating that this uptick in form for the two of them is no joke. The two have even seen their defensive indicators improve slightly, further gesturing towards how essential they are to the Rangers recent success. Hopefully as the injuries to Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh heal up and the team continues to face more important divisional matchups they can help take this team to the next level.

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Categories : Forwards

23 comments

  1. Gary says:

    I don’t like to sound like a whiner but that Stalberg penalty was pure b/s. It’s no excuse for the brutal PK, but that phantom penalty opened the gates. Rangers were the better team last night outside of inept PK and that penalty should not have been called.

    • rich says:

      kreider penalty was also bs……he was interfered with or he would have beaten defender to the puck……
      at some point i would like to see av stand up for his players and yell at the refs
      BUT>>>>>> McIlrath is the only defender who actually covers opposing players near the net…..always right on them, not just near them or in the vicinity…..maybe buekaboom needs to coach our Defenseman…

      • BOBBY B says:

        I agree Rich, the tying goal was pathetic, it looked like Klein was on vacation as the Blackhawk player just stood in front of Hank for an eternity, no physical presence at all.

        • Chris A says:

          What would you like Klein to do? If he tries to move Anisimov, it’s interference and another PP for Chicago.

          I’m with Gary on the Stalberg call. That was laughably bad. All Stalberg did was reach out and Panarin made sure to hold on to Stalberg’s arm. It’s getting harder and harder to legally defend a puck carrier these days.

    • Chuck A. says:

      Might the Stalberg whistle have been compensation for Kreider bumping Crawford?

  2. amy says:

    that line with Brass, quickie, and J.T. is a good line they have chemistry as does the line with Step, Kreids, and Zucc see you on Sunday boys.

  3. Pat says:

    A quick note: when I wrote this I had forgotten that there was a game last night, so the 8-game period the post refers to vis a vis the stats is January 25th against Buffalo to February 14th against Philly. Sorry about that everyone.

  4. Bayman says:

    I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but…and I’m stating the obvious here…something needs to be done about the PK. While the cry before the trade deadline is for a Top 6 forward, the more urgent need, and probably more cheaply acquired, is help on the PK.

    Second thought…perhaps related to the first…in the last month, we’ve blown late leads three times to quality opponents (Wash, LA, Chi). It used to be a 3rd period lead was gold. No longer. We need to be able to finish better.

  5. Hatrick Swayze says:

    Nice piece, Pat. Hayes has started to also show signs of life offensively lately. I haven’t looked into his peripherals, but he’s put up 5 points over the past 4 games with two multi point efforts.

    That said, Stepan and Brassard are the guys who need to do it night in and night out if we really expect to turn a corner. It’s nice to see both of them going at the same time.

  6. RangerMom says:

    But, but, but, I thought Stepan sucks.

    I just don’t get all the hate directed at Stepan. He’s really good and very underrated.

  7. 43 says:

    Anyone heard this news about the Rangers being in the market for a backup goalie? There’s a few rumors about them being in on a Reimer acquisition. Seems like a frivolous move, as Hank “likes to play.”

  8. Walt says:

    If the Rangers could get an honest to goodness first lie center, Step goes to second, Brass to the third, we would be solid for sure. Hayes could go on the wing, with Linberg on the 4th line. The biggest need though is still a solid, physical defenseman, who will clear the slot of anyone stupid enough to test us!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Peter Ruden says:

    I was encouraged by their 5 on 5 play last night but discouraged by the penalty killing. However, seems to me that the PK can be more easily fixed than 5 man performance, but time is running out.

    Yeah they can use a couple of solid, physical defensemen (young Dylan should fit as one of them) to clear the crease and otherwise police their own zone. That would be great. That would in turn free Yandle to be Yandle, and free anyone they bring up who’s similar. You need big tough D-men and also need a puck mover to be a quarterback.

    It is great when you have all the pieces, but right now they’re a little short on defense and desperately need Nash to find his game.

    • 43 says:

      We can blame the PK all we want, and it was pitiful last night, but Chicago is loaded with offensive skill. They take advantage of any weakness, no matter how severe or meager. I don’t see last night’s disastrous PK as a sign of things to come. Should it be a concern, yes, of course. But even a good PK should be maintained and worked on often.

  10. Furls says:

    Because he’s overpayed

  11. amy says:

    enjoyed the game last night good game by you brass and zucc will see you guys on sunday have a great day off

  12. WilliamW says:

    Good article, depth down the middle is one of the major keys to building a team and while the Rangers don’t have a superstar, the quality of Brassard-Stepan-Hayes-Moore is enough to keep them in the mix

    IMO the teams with clearly superior center depth going forward are:
    SJS – Thorton, Couture, Pavelski
    EDM – McDavid, RNH, Draisitil
    PIT – Crosby, Malkin, Bonino
    BUF – ROR, Eichel, Reinhart
    LAK – Kopitar, Carter, Shore
    CHI – Towes, Anisimov, Teravinen
    WSH – Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Beagle