Archive for Analysis
Eleven games into the 2015-2016 season, the New York Rangers are sitting pretty. They are 7-2-2, which puts them in a virtual tie for first place in the Metro Division –the Caps have one game in hand– and second in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers are scoring (31 goals) and their goaltending has been superb. Their defense has been shaky though, which is a bit of a concern.
Folks are pointing at the Rangers’ lack of possession, but the overall season number is skewed by a poor first three games. The team hemorrhaged shots, and it skewed their overall numbers as a team. But at the individual level, we get a clearer picture of who is struggling, who is unlucky, and who might be due for some regression.
We have hit the ten game mark of the regular season, and the Rangers are off to a good start at 6-2-2. The team hasn’t been perfect –the blue line has been downright awful, which is a combination of personnel and recovering from injuries– but they’ve been able to pick each other up when needed. The goaltending in particular has really bailed this team out when they’ve needed it.
The offense has had three clunkers (Winnipeg, Montreal, New Jersey) but overall has been consistent. The bottom-six has been pretty solid while the top-six still attempt to figure it all out. This group of forwards is the deepest offensively I’ve ever seen from a Rangers team. Ever. And this is without a very skilled Emerson Etem getting regular playing time.
The Rangers couldn’t really have asked for much more after two games. Two road games brought two wins against the reigning Stanley Cup champion and one of the Eastern conference’s rising powers. The first two games also gave significant insight into how the Rangers will have sustained success this season: depth and Hank.
Depth wins in the NHL, wins for the Rangers
Mats Zuccarello aside, the Rangers top line hasn’t got started yet and despite this the Rangers have two victories to kick off their season. Six Rangers have at least two points after two games, with rookie Oscar Lindberg starting his first Rangers’ October in sensational style with two big goals and JT Miller showing his difference making ability with three assists in his first two games. Indeed, the Rangers third line (with Viktor Stalberg) has been the team’s best thus far. They’ve established offensive zone time, generated offense and have gotten in on the forecheck consistently.
When Kevin Klein was confirmed to be starting alongside Keith Yandle at the end of the preseason, I theorized that the two could be a solid duo. Klein has a heavy shot, looks to shoot often, and does a fairly good job of putting himself in a position to shoot. Yandle, on the other hand, is one of the best passers in the game, and makes many subtle plays to draw attention before dishing for a chance.
We started seeing this last night, as Klein scored the Rangers second of the game off a feed from Yandle, GIF’d above. From this play, we see Klein enter the zone at the high slot, then drift to the left circle. As Klein moves to the left circle –while the play is on the far side of the ice– Yandle moves from the left point across the blue line to support the play on the right point. From here, Yandle draws two Hawks to him with a fake shot as Klein angles himself towards Yandle to accept a pass. Yandle sees this, and feeds it right in his wheel house. Klein buried it.
The Rangers head to Chicago tonight for their season opener while having the ‘pleasure’ of the Blackhawks Stanley Cup banner raising ceremony. The Rangers and the ‘Hawks have both undergone significant roster change – perhaps highlighted by Antti Raanta who headed from Chicago to New York to replace Cam Talbot. With tonight’s game an immediate test of how ready the Rangers are for the new season, let’s take a look at three Rangers players who could play a critical role tonight.
Anytime the Rangers head to Chicago to play the ‘Hawks Kevin Hayes will be a focal point given how he was drafted by the Hawks then walked away from the team. Hayes will be one to watch tonight firstly to see how he acclimatises to his new top six right wing role, a position he rarely played last season. In two games last season Hayes went pointless against Chicago but he’ll be counted on from the get-go this season as the Rangers look for more secondary scoring.
The new Kreider – Stepan – Hayes line boasts a ton of size and playmaking ability but could see a lot of Patrick Kane tonight as Kane starts on the second line with former Ranger Artem Anisimov. How the Stepan line copes with Kane and co. will be a huge factor in the Rangers ability to leave Chicago with a season opening win.
When Henrik Lundqvist went down with a fluke vascular injury last season, all eyes turned to Cam Talbot. A very short time after inking a very reasonable one year, $1.45 million extension, Talbot was thrust into starting duty. After his impressive rookie season as backup to the King, this was his first big test. Long story short, Talbot delivered and the focus began to shift to the ultimate offseason return for the former University of Alabama-Huntsville keeper. Whatever we may think of the value he brought in hindsight, his departure to Edmonton left the Rangers without a reliable backup in the system. Especially in light of Mackenzie Skapski’s injury.
On the very same day Talbot was shipped out to western Canada, the front office turned Ryan Haggerty into Antti Raanta. While a somewhat under-the-radar move, I think everyone assumed the Rangers had found their backup. Raanta had a very short NHL track record (39 career games), but had put up excellent number this past season. At 26 years-old, he was an ideal backup with some upside.
I am sure nearly every Rangers fan by now knows that the team added versatile, veteran center Jarret Stoll to the organization yesterday on a one year deal for $800K. This deal has created numerous conversations between Rangers fans about the roster and I thought I may as well write out my thoughts here.
Stoll is a 33 year old, 2 time cup champion with the LA Kings that brings a few elements to the Rangers. He has decent size at 6’1, 215 lbs and is a right handed shot. Four years ago I would have been ecstatic about this, Stoll is just one of those players that I love, but the truth is he isn’t the same player as he once was. He has been regressing a bit every year and it isn’t right to simply assume he would bounce back to his play as a 28 year old. That said I still believe he can be effective on the 4th line for a few reasons and also think he has a lot of effect on the Rangers’ roster.
As expected, the New York Rangers have been relatively quiet this off season due to their cap situation. One NHL transaction that they made that can be seen as prominent is the signing of left wing Viktor Stalberg. At first, some people may have been confused over why the Rangers signed a player who played some games in the AHL to a $1.1 million contract, or why the Rangers signed him when they have young guys like Ryan Bourque and Oscar Lindberg still competing for an NHL spot. But the more I look at this the more it seems like an efficient signing by the New York Rangers.
For those who do not follow me on Twitter, I am currently working on a project that can allow fans and maybe NHL employees alike to view a player at any contract and see if he is worth it in the light of numerous stats. However, instead of talking about just millions we will be talking about cap percentage (cap%).
Why cap percentage?
Last week I hypothesized about how the Rangers could make up for the 38 goals they lost when Carl Hagelin and Martin St. Louis departed and determined that there were plenty of reasons for optimism including Keith Yandle’s potential impact on the power play and improved production from young forwards. Then I began wondering about how having different luck could change things.
Luck has become a buzzword since the emergence of the #fancystats movement, with many theorizing that a team and player’s goal scoring totals could fluctuate wildly due as much to dumb luck as anything else. PDO is the most commonly used new stat to evaluate overall luck, but since the Rangers still have Henrik Lundqvist in goal, I’m not too worried about their luck changing on that side of the puck.
We are through three games in the Metro Division Finals against the Washington Capitals, and all three games have been heart-attack-inducing. Braden Holtby and Henrik Lundqvist have almost matched each other save for save, with Holtby stealing one last night to give the Caps a 2-1 series lead.
One of the prevalent observations is that the Rangers are “making it easy” on Holtby by “throwing a lot of shots at his gut.” The problem with this theory is that it discounts how good Holtby has been. Shots hit a goalie in the logo because of the positioning of the goaltender, not the quality of the shot. Holtby is playing to a .949 SV%, and while he’s had to make some spectacular saves, he’s been so good positionally that he doesn’t give the Rangers much to shoot at.