Archive for State of the Rangers
It’s become blatantly obvious at this point in the season that the Rangers’ blue line needs something of a tighten up, with the team bleeding shot attempts on a nightly basis stretching back beyond this current skid to when the team was winning a larger proportion of their games. Although the team’s defensive play has been slightly less hemorrhagic of late a consensus seems to have formed, gesturing towards the notion that the Rangers’ defensive corp is among their biggest concerns.
More statistically minded fans may have seen this coming during the Rangers’ win streak earlier in the season, but at this point most fans can see that the Rangers’ defense is not what it could (or should) be, especially with regards to the play of stalwart defensemen Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. With the Rangers having won only two of their last seven games the team needs to be looking ahead to solutions, and once again I have a modest proposal to make. This blog has already written in praise of Dylan McIlrath’s play and noted the future importance of Brady Skjei. Insofar as the Rangers are working with what they have the two young players are crucial to improving this blue line right now, not just down the road.
Note: I posted over Dave by accident. Oops. Be sure to check out his post below.
The news that Jarret Stoll was waived on Monday afternoon should only come as a surprise because of Alain Vigneault’s perceived loyalty to his players however Stoll’s play (declining on a game by game basis) will have never won him any loyalty from his coach. As such the Rangers have started to make moves to address the worrying trend in results in recent weeks by severing ties with Stoll.
Stoll should only be the beginning. As I wrote several weeks ago, Stoll was a luxury addition by the then greedy Rangers. He was acquired in the summer because of his perceived added value (hello Stanley Cup rings) rather than his skill set being a legitimate need for the Rangers. He was always a square peg in a round hole especially when you remember Dominic Moore is still a regular in the line-up.
The Rangers embarrassing loss in Edmonton was the exclamation point for the embarrassing regression from the Rangers defense. Unfortunately it all centers on Dan Girardi. The veteran Rangers blueliner has become an absolute liability.
This issue is no longer about his already questionable decision making ability. Players can cover up their decision making through their athletic prowess (Chris Kreider), their effort (guys such as Brandon Prust) and their positional sense but Girardi’s awful play has become so apparent and it’s because he’s basically doing nothing right on the ice anymore and it’s got to the point where he needs to be removed from the line-up, even if it’s just for a game or two.
Girardi can’t skate well enough for Alain Vigneault’s system, he makes bad plays with the puck but his positional play has now never been worse. He’s far too often removed from the play in his own zone. To the point where he can’t even block a shot which has so often been his saving grace (because fan bases overrate heroic blocked shots like it was the Spartan’s last stand) and a key defense from his defenders (of which I used to be one).
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I had the opportunity to attend a Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL) game in St. Catherine’s, Ontario. Their opponent that night was none other than the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, who happen to roster one of the Rangers’ better goaltending prospects. Brandon Halverson, the Rangers 2nd round pick in 2014 has been a darling of scouts the past few years, and many have tapped him as the heir apparent to Henrik Lundqvist. Expect to see him in net for Team USA at the World Junior Championships this year.
After getting an up close look at the Traverse City, Michigan native, I wanted to share my impressions and dig a little deeper into Halverson’s game. I’m not going to use my normal scouting format, as this is really a one game snapshot and not intended to be a comprehensive scouting report. I would need to see much more of him to feel confident painting broad assumptions on his skill set.
We have arrived at a point in the season where the warts on the Rangers are no longer avoidable. The Rangers defense keep turning the puck over, they continue to show an inability to protect Henrik Lundqvist or even limit odd man rushes despite the warning signs being there from the very beginning of the season.
Sure, the Rangers still have a very healthy record and they keep winning games (disregarding the current three game losing streak) but this team isn’t about the regular season. This team is about going deep beyond April. If the bad habits can’t be ironed out now, they threaten to undermine the team when the season has meaning.
Is this overreacting to a handful of sloppy results? After all, before the Bruins loss last week, the Rangers were the only team in the league to be averaging under two goals per game against. The only team in the entire league. Clearly that was an impressive statistic but was that the by-product of Henrik Lundqvist’s unbelievable start to the season? The Rangers have conceded at least four goals in three of the last four games, not including the stinker laid down against the Flyers. Right before that stretch of goals conceded, the loss against Tampa Bay was also highlighted by a late, shorthanded goal caused through individual mistakes from the Rangers.
A shutout victory against a very good team can mask a lot of deficiencies but the Rangers won’t win the Stanley Cup the way they’re currently playing – I think all Rangers fans know this. The top line can dominate all they want but they can’t play sixty minutes every game and Henrik Lundqvist can win the Vezina by a landslide but even he needs support. There is no way Lundqvist can continue this stretch of excellence unless the team start to play better in front of him.
The Rangers are winning games but they aren’t playing consistently well at either end of the rink – a handful of players aside. If it wasn’t for a potentially career year from Mats Zuccarello and Lundqvist’s sustained brilliance, what would this team’s record be? A lot closer to .500 hockey for sure.
Of course, there are a lot of reasons for optimism. The vast majority of the roster can play better, the defense certainly has the ability and collective track record to suggest they can (and will?) offer Lundqvist more protection and if team-wide discipline improves (it must) then the Rangers would spend less time in the penalty box surely resulting in more offense by default.
There are many reasons to hope Dan Boyle can get his game to the point where he sticks in the Rangers line-up in what appears to be his final season as an NHL defenseman. First of all, if Boyle improves it would surely bring with it a ripple effect on the Rangers blueline – his improved play would solidify the Rangers’ top six. It would also likely mean he’s helped influence an indifferent powerplay (despite just two PP assists only Keith Yandle averages more PP ice time among Rangers blueliners). It would also likely mean that the Rangers have continued to win games meaning management don’t prioritise changes to their experienced but at this point underwhelming (as a unit) blueline.
The most important reason to hope for a short term Dan Boyle resurgence however currently resides outside of the New York spotlight. It’s Brady Skjei. Not every young college alumni can Ryan McDonagh themselves to the NHL. Not every defenseman is ready after a few weeks of pro ice time and the Rangers should (and likely have) absolutely no interest in rushing their prized asset. Dan Boyle’s situation however massively influences the Rangers immediate attitude toward Skjei.
The Rangers are off to their best start in history, but yet there is that sneaking suspicion that all is not well in Rangerland. Both Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta have been forced to make highlight reel saves on a regular basis. Defensemen are getting burned to the outside, are getting caught out of position, and are hemorrhaging shots against at an alarming rate. When the SV% comes back down to Earth, and it will, the Rangers may find themselves losing games they should win.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a playoff team with elite goaltending and forward depth that is envied across the league. They are one of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference right now, up there with Montreal, Tampa Bay, and Washington. Any of those four can come out of the East. Wild cards like Pittsburgh and the Islanders also make things interesting.
Since the East is going to be a dog fight, the Rangers need to do everything possible to improve their performance on the ice and give themselves the best chance at winning that elusive Stanley Cup. That includes improving upon their bottom-third score-adjusted possession rate.
New York Rangers’ general manager Jeff Gorton must be watching his team win game after game to start the new season while wondering what he’s done to deserve such luck. Why luck? The Rangers are likely headed toward a tough offseason with several young, but key, roster players due new contracts. The lucky part for Gorton right now, is that none of those players are making a strong case for (key word) significant pay rises.
As we enter mid-November, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, Emerson Etem and veteran defenseman Keith Yandle are all approaching next summer with their future’s unclear. Particularly in the cases of Kreider, Hayes and Yandle all three should be significant parts of the Rangers future. Kreider is the power forward, goalscorer in waiting, Hayes has quickly become an integral and flexible part of the top nine while Yandle is the best puck mover the Rangers can turn to.
What a strange ride this 2015-2016 season has been so far. After last night’s victory over the eminently talented St. Louis Blues, the Rangers sit just two points behind the mighty Montreal Canadiens for the best record in the entire NHL. However, it has not been a stream of endless adulation and bold championship predictions on Broadway. In fact, most pundits expect the Rangers to take a severe step back due to their unsustainable combination of low possession and high PDO.
Be sure to check out our “Metrics we use” tab for useful information on possession statistics, but PDO is much simpler. Basically it creates a “normalized” statistic by combining shooting percentage and save percentage and theorizing they will both regress to a league average of 100. The theory is that over time, unsustainably high or low shooting and save percentages will regress to the mean, and performance can be predicted to improve or decline as regression takes place. It’s hockey best attempt at quantifying “luck”.