Archive for Analysis
Growing up playing goalie, there were many different warm ups I went through. As a kid, I just strapped on the pads and went for it. As I got into more organized and competitive hockey, I started paying more attention to what I needed as I went through the pre-game warmups. At that point, I wanted my teammates to make sure they shot the puck at me.
It’s not an overly complicated concept. Get me used to the puck hitting me. Then get me moving laterally, still putting the pucks low so that I can get a feel for it. Sure, there was the one guy that always picked a corner. There was the other guy that was a jackass and thought it was funny to ring one off my mask. After the warmups, I had a feel for it before puck drop.
One of the major concerns for the Rangers this season is that they are not a good puck possession team. It’s been a growing concern over the past few months, as the Rangers were getting pinned in their own end and not getting enough pressure at the other end. It’s why many were concerned that this year’s team was identical to last year’s.
While there are some explanations why the Rangers have had subpar numbers (injuries, leads, etc), they certainly are not excuses. However one major shining light is that the Rangers are getting high quality chances when taking their shots. The Rangers are the league leaders in average distance of shot both at even strength and on the powerplay.
Until very recently, there had been a growing concern among the Rangers fan base that the team’s inability to win without scoring at least three goals. Their first win of that kind came in Winnipeg, by a score of 2-1. From that point one week ago, the Rangers have scored over three goals just once. That was Sunday against the Devils, a 5-0 shutout. The other three games they won 1-0 (Chicago), lost 2-1 (Chicago), and won 2-0 (Dallas). That’s three wins in four when scoring fewer than three goals.
Some point to offense drying up. Some point to goaltending stepping up. Some point to improved defense. In reality it’s all three. We all knew the offense would dry up. After all, the Rangers weren’t going to shoot 15% the rest of the year. It’s just not possible. But while we knew the offense would dry up to a degree, we also knew the goaltending –which hadn’t been as expected– was going to get better as well.
In case you missed it, and if you’re reading this you didn’t, Antti Raanta has been the starting goalie for the past three games. He’s won all three games, with the last two via shutout. Alain Vigneault seems content with riding the hot hand, which means Henrik Lundqvist –who has “struggled” this season– is riding pine.
There is a very vocal minority that thinks the Rangers should be starting Raanta going forward, even if/when Hank regains his Hank-like form. It is unlikely that happens, as Lundqvist will likely return to his starting role soon, but it’s still a possibility that Raanta continues to play well and get more starts.
All of this leads to whether or not there is a goalie controversy in New York. But to answer the question, perhaps we should do some actual digging into how the Rangers play with each goalie in net.
We are 24 games into the season, and we’ve seen a Rangers team that has wowed us, depressed us and made us feel every feeling in between. No matter where you sit on the spectrum of the Rangers play, you are likely happy with the 16-7-1 start to the season. If not, then you are likely happy with the +29 goal differential thus far. If not, then well then I’m assuming you hate the coach.
We’ve seen enough of the Rangers that we can evaluate their performance and perhaps what’s to come for the rest of the season. Joe Fortunato did a wonderful job of reviewing if you should be worried about the club, something you should check out, and this is likely going to cover a lot of the same points. I had this post planned for today, so I’m going to write it anyway. Sue me Joe.
Successful teams need depth and the Rangers certainly have depth right now. What they also have is value for money and in a cap world when depth goes hand in hand with value for money you have yourself a winning record. Getting bang for your buck is something we’ve discussed ad nauseam on the Blog but it’s worth repeating.
Here’s a number that may surprise you. Only eight(!) teams have a smaller overall cap commitment than the Rangers this season – your deep pocketed Blueshirts check in with an overall $70,246,111 spend. When was the last time the Rangers were near the bottom of the league in overall spending? Leading the league in goals scored while having the 22nd overall cap hit is a great example of value for money in a hard cap league that forces General Managers to trade away talent to be financially compliant.
Don’t look now, but your New York Rangers are tops in the league in goal scoring (35) and tied for second in the league goal differential (+13). The Rangers have won games by simply outchancing, outshooting, and outscoring the opposition. The rebuilt forward group is deep, fast, skilled, and allows Alain Vigneault to run four lines capable of putting the puck in the net, seemingly at will.
This team has been incredibly fun to watch. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to say that about the Rangers, as they usually have been relying on Henrik Lundqvist to bail them out game after game. This year seems different, even if the outrageous scoring may not last.
At this point last year, the Rangers were just starting their run of what felt like two months without a loss. The wins kept piling up, but there were significant flaws in the process, as the club was getting completely dominated. They relied on unsustainable goaltending and unrealistic shooting success. In December, they crashed to Earth hard.
This year is significantly different. The Rangers are enjoying some success, but not at the same level as last year. There are easily identifiable holes, but the overall process is significantly better. The Rangers are piling up the scoring chances and keeping clubs pinned in their own zone, something we didn’t see last year.
Generating offense can be tricky to analyze. Most use raw point totals, but those don’t tell the entire story sometimes. What point totals can miss is overall creation of offense and quality chances. Only 8.5% of team chances wind up in the back of the net on average (assuming a .915 SV% as league average), and that’s in all situations. Are we only supposed to judge offense on 8.5% of all hockey plays?
That’s where some of the passing projects come into play. The main one is Ryan Stimson’s (@RK_Stimp) passing project, where he employs many different people to manually track pass types and how they lead to goals. This got taken one step further by @loserpoints, who looked at specific pass types (Steve Valiquette’s Royal Road passes, behind the net passes, etc) and how they led to dangerous shot attempts. The full details are here.
Henrik Lundqvist has been the backbone and the face of the New York Rangers for over a decade. It’s been a fascinating career to watch, as we have become somewhat jaded to his consistent excellence and the impact he has had on a franchise in transition, coming out of the lockout in 2005.
Now, at age 34, with a huge contract and still without that elusive Stanley Cup ring, detractors have begun to emerge and question The King’s right to his throne. Specifically, they have taken shots at his current performance level and anticipated decline.