It’s a holiday tradition unlike any other: The Rangers/Flyers post-Thanksgiving showdown. In keeping with the tradition, the Rangers showed the Flyers how a real hockey team plays, besting their Metropolitan Division rivals 3-2 in a high-spirited matchup that featured some phenomenal saves by Henrik Lundqvist. All of this should be cause for celebration, but while I hate to be a downer I’m going to come in and rain on the Turkey Day hockey parade.
Just to get it out there, front and center for all to see, the Rangers did not play a good game. Their CF% for the game was 32.04%, and the only Rangers skaters with above a 40% individual CF% were Brady Skjei, who played exceptionally given the circumstances, Josh Jooris, and Kevin Klein (no Rangers cracked 50%). For those who are really statistically inclined, xGF% on corsica.hockey, which takes into account things like shot type, distance, and angle of the shot, was 37.12%, which is also, suffice to say, not very good. How on Earth did they win this game then? Two words: Henrik Lundqvist. His save percentage was 95.24% and he made some simply outrageous saves in close that any other goalie would have let in. Once again, Henrik bailed us out.
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because things are starting to look a little bit (although I wouldn’t say a lot quite yet) like last year. The Rangers, off to a hot start with some outstanding individual performances, won a large portion of their games and then slowly degenerated into a team that was bounced in the first round of the playoffs. Although it is fair to say that the Rangers lost to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions (who I won’t name here), it’s also fair to say that their performance in that series was abysmal. What we saw last year, with the defense struggling to get the puck out of the zone and limit shots against, is beginning to set in this year, and despite the win I just don’t like it.
All of this requires a few caveats of course, the first being that I myself have written about the Rangers improved play from last season, and I stand by that. The Rangers are in fact producing high quality scoring chances at rate higher than any other team. When they’re on their game, they seem to be the real deal.
Four balanced lines overwhelming opponents, with rock solid goaltending behind them, and adequate defense seems like a solid, but not foolproof recipe for success. The Rangers vaunted transition game works when it’s on, but when those stretch passes are getting cut off, guys are being stood up at the blueline, and opponents are forechecking aggressively to keep the Rangers pinned in their own end, it’s not so great.
My second caveat is this – being displeased by an exciting win over a rival team does not mean I hate the Rangers success. I am more than happy to get two points wherever we can get them, but that kind of strategy is only sustainable for so long, as we saw last season. On the flip side of the coin, there are games where the Rangers play really well and still lose, which can be satisfying in their own right. As fans we all want the same thing and that is for the Rangers to win the Stanley Cup. While we may disagree about how we get there, voicing concern or displeasure over a performance like Friday’s is simply about wanting the team to be as good as they can be.
It’s also important for me to mention that sometimes you just don’t play well. This is true in any sport, and especially in hockey, where random bounces or chance plays can greatly affect the outcome of a game or series. I have no issue with an occasional blooper, but what concerns me is that this has been more than a couple of games at this point, and stands in stark contrast to the kind of promise we saw early on in the season.
It’s also worth noting that two of our better forwards, Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich are out with injury, which is to say that our team is perhaps not firing on all cylinders as of late. That’s a perfectly valid thing to bring up, and I’m certainly interested to see how this team performs when it’s fully healthy (in addition to the fact that in the few games they played both Buch and Zibanejad have rapidly become favorites of mine).
The point however, is this: The defense is holding the team back, and if AV and/or Jeff Gorton don’t do something about it we’re going to wind up seeing a season like last year. The characters may be different this time around, and the plot may have minor changes to it, but the story will remain the same – a hot start Rangers team slowly fell off the wagon and saw an early playoff exit. For all of our sakes I hope that’s not how it goes."About that win against the Flyers",