Archive for State of the Rangers
Tonight’s game marks the halfway point of the 2016-2017 season. The Rangers are in prime playoff position, with an 11-point cushion separating them from the wild card cutoff line. But despite a successful campaign thus far, things haven’t gone perfectly on Broadway. Here’s a recap of where the Rangers stand halfway through the year.
What’s gone according to plan
– A bounce back season for the penalty kill. When asked about the team’s plans for the summer, GM Jeff Gorton said, “you can probably look at our roster and pick that apart and figure out what we need to do.” While many of us believed he was referring to the defense, Gorton’s subsequent moves made it very clear that he was dead set on improving a penalty kill unit that ranked 26th last season after three top-six finishes in the previous four years. So far, Gorton’s makeover has paid major dividends. Thanks to acquisitions like Michael Grabner and the development of youngsters like J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes who have often tilted the ice in the Rangers’ favor even when they’ve been shorthanded, New York currently ranks ninth in the league.
The Rangers’ biggest strength at the outset of the season was their depth at forward. Although their early scoring bonanza turned out to be unsustainable, it certainly showed us what four balanced scoring lines are capable of accomplishing – a complete style of play predicated on quick transitions and overwhelming offensive contributions.
Since then things have tapered off a bit, in large part due to the team’s unsustainable shooting percentage but also due to injuries. Missing Rick Nash, Pavel Buchnevich, and Mika Zibanejad has definitely altered the look of the Rangers lineup leading to a dependence on certain players to carry the team on any given night (think Derek Stepan against the Senators or Chris Kreider more recently against Colorado). Certainly when you consider that Matt Puempel is on the second powerplay unit (all due respect to Matt Puempel), it’s evident that the team’s forward depth has taken a hit.
So things are starting to look up as the Rangers’ three biggest injuries prepare to return to the ice, with Rick Nash all but ready and his latter two comrades skating in non-contact jerseys at practice of late.
As the focus of the Rangers season thus far has shifted from the goaltending to the defense, it seems that the one thing that seems to slip under the radar is the wild success of the forward group. It’s easy to have that slip through the cracks, as we like to think of ways to improve the club, potentially taking what we see in front of us for granted.
When fully healthy, the Rangers were a scoring machine. They still hold the top offense in the league with 135 goals with a full top line out to injury for an extended period of time. Rick Nash is arguably the Rangers best forward and has played just three games in the past three weeks. Mika Zibanejad is likely the most dangerous forward on the powerplay, and he’s been out for two months. Pavel Buchnevich is the top rookie, and it looks like Putin kidnapped him.
The New York Rangers have hit a prominent lull in the 2016-2017 season. It is pretty easy to expect fans to be getting antsy when your team has given up more touchdowns than the Cleveland Browns in one week, followed up by spotting Ottawa a two-spot early on. Members of the analytics community expected the team to slow down, and losing an entire first line tends to make the regression even more excruciating. Other bloggers in the Rangers community have mentioned that perhaps, a key thing the Rangers need to help turn this lull around is toughness.
One of the biggest proponents for adding toughness in the Rangers blogger universe is @NYR_Fulltilt and he laid out his points well in this post. I tend to disagree with a lot of what he says, but I have noticed that much of the backlash he is getting is disjointed yelling, making following and cheering for the team difficult at times. I am just going to flat out say my view, toughness is not an issue, nor is having four similar lines of skill, but I do think there is more to the discussion than what meets the eyes.
The Rangers have gone 8-3 in their last eleven games, which is obviously a good thing. However, there has been some really bad process along the way. I don’t think there is any question at this point that the Rangers are most definitely a playoff team, but the bigger concern lies in their ability to win a seven game series with the likes of the Penguins and Capitals.
At BSB, we analyze performance on a game-by-game basis, while trying to identify good and bad traits in what is happening on the ice. We also like to take macro view of overall production and trends, which can hopefully be predictive of future performance and adjustments that need to be made for sustained success. I suppose what makes analyzing this stretch of Rangers’ hockey frustrating is the injuries to several key forwards, namely Rick Nash, Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich.
Somehow every year this game tricks us into forgetting that each season consists of 82 games and will without fail feature peaks and valleys in both performance and results.
The 2016-2017 campaign has been no different for the Blueshirts, who came out of the gate like gangbusters – scoring at an unprecedented rate and looking very capable of making another run despite pessimistic preseason predictions by most pundits.
Then, the offense dried up, the luck ran out, injuries struck and the usual all-world goaltending became suddenly average.
As the season has progressed for the Rangers, there has been growing concern that this year is a lot like last year. And it’s tough to really fault those that are worried. There are some alarming similarities. Last year, the Rangers got off to a hot start with unsustainable goaltending and shooting. Their possession stats weren’t good, and when the regression came, the Rangers crashed down to Earth.
This year is a little similar. There was a hot start with unsustainable shooting. The possession stats have been tanking until very recently. But there are some differences at even strength, most notably the scoring chance rates (great) and the goaltending (mediocre).
But perhaps the biggest difference from this year to last is special teams.
The Rangers are in a weird spot right now. Still riding their hot start, they remain tied for the second highest point total in the NHL, with a comfortable playoff position and league best goal differential. On the other hand, they are only 5-4-1 in their last ten games, they are missing four (!) top nine forwards and have seen their shot differentials trending in the way wrong direction.
So, how are we currently supposed to be feeling as Ranger fans? We know the defense has not been up to snuff. Henrik Lundqvist has not been his usual self so far this season (sidebar: I plan to do an analysis shortly about why exactly that is) and the Rangers ability to create offensive chances can be stifled with conservative neutral zone tactics. Yet, despite all this, they are having (overall) success. Now, the old analytics argument is starting to rear its ugly head again on regression versus fan enjoyment, but there are a lot of moving parts here. Let’s break it down a little. Read More→
The Rangers have had an interesting start to the season, one that feels similar to last year. The Rangers are getting ridiculously hot shooting and relying on getting at least three goals per game to get their wins. They haven’t won a single game where they scored fewer than three times, and the goaltending is unable to mask the defensive deficiencies any longer.
However the major change from last year, and perhaps the source of many of their wins over the past few weeks, is their special teams play. Last year, the power play was mediocre and the penalty kill flat out stunk. This year is a complete 180, with the Rangers in the top-ten in both categories.
The Rangers are slipping. It’s no secret to anyone who’s watched the team these past couple of weeks. Poor defensive play and a lack of execution on the rush –and some teams figuring out how to stymie the Rangers’ game plan– mean that the team has either barely squeaked by when they’ve won games (Philly) or gotten totally hammered (Buffalo). Situations like this are always multifaceted in that there’s never one main issue with the team that, if fixed, would suddenly make them Stanley Cup contenders, but one issue that needs to be discussed at this point is the coaching.
Let me be clear: I am not advocating for the firing of Alain Vigneault. What I am suggesting however is that it’s time to be frank about his time as the New York Rangers head coach and take the good with the bad. Yes, he has gotten the team within a few games of a Stanley Cup, but coaches can’t only be evaluated on their achievements, they also need to be evaluated on their shortcomings.