Archive for Special Teams
The Rangers are in a pretty pickle right now. They are in second place, sure, but does it really feel like they are in second place? It does not. This team hasn’t given everyone that warm and fuzzy feeling that the previous two teams has. It has us asking if you can really trust this team come playoff time.
One area that needs addressing is the powerplay. Alain Vigneault spent an eternity thinking Ryan McDonagh and Dan Boyle can anchor the top unit, relegating Keith Yandle to second unit minutes. This was, in a word, stupid. Yandle is the Rangers’ best powerplay guy, and while it took way too long to get him on the top unit, he is there now and playing the most powerplay minutes on the team (among defensemen) since Christmas.
Two questions for the mailbag this week. As always, submit your questions via the widget on the right, and we will answer them on a weekly basis.
Ray observes: This is more of an observation about the penalty kill than a question. So I’m going to put the full email from Ray below, it’s superb analysis.
I looked up some surprisingly hard to find numbers and did some calculations that might be of interest. I found my starting numbers on War-on-Ice. The stat is simple enough — TOI/GA (time-on-ice per goals against), so one is rating defenders by the simple metric of how well they keep the puck out of the net. High numbers are good.
I list all Rangers with at least 10 minutes of PK time and asterisk those with < 50 minutes.
Yesterday morning, the Rangers signed winger Daniel Paille because, as Alain Vigneault put it, “he is a solid fourth line penalty killer and our penalty kill needs help.” It’s no surprise that the Rangers are struggling on the penalty kill, they 25th in the league with a 78.9% kill rate. This is a huge contrast from last year, when they were 6th in the league at 84.3% efficiency.
The only major difference from last year’s unit to this year’s is that Carl Hagelin is no longer with the team. As the second most used penalty killer, he was extremely efficient with Dominic Moore. They both had a CA/60 in the high-70s, at 76.98 for Moore and 78.60 for Hagelin. Those are excellent shots against rates. They aren’t the only ones to have solid Ca/60 rates on the PK either.
Other than the infamous “Potvin Sucks” chant, there’s not much that’s more annoying at MSG than the cries for players to “SHOOT THE PUCK!” on the power play.
Sure, shooting the puck is usually a great idea – as Wayne Gretzky once said, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” – but blasting a slapper from the point into the shin pads of an opposing forward when you’re the last line of defense is generally inadvisable.
When I was preparing to write this post, the original title was going to be “What is wrong with the Rangers powerplay?” Then as I got to watching this year’s games, and last year’s games, I got more and more frustrated. It’s not about the lack of goals. Ok, that’s a lie, it is about the lack of goals, but that’s just a by-product of a critical piece that is missing from this powerplay.
The Rangers do not have a right-handed shot on the off-wing that forces opponents to respect the shot from that side of the ice.
Derek Stepan is too methodical from that spot. He rarely one-times it and is looking to set people up. That’s fine, but when he’s on a powerplay unit with Keith Yandle, it creates two people looking to set up and no one looking to finish. This works against the Rangers, and it leads to too much passing and not enough shots. The puck movement is great, but there needs to be someone who will fire away.
There are only two certain things in life: Death and screaming at the TV for the New York Rangers not having a good power play. It is still early in the season so this is bound to get better (hopefully), but the New York Rangers rank 25th in the league on the powerplay (ahead of the Penguins, Kings and the Ducks) and 13th in the league on the penalty kill. The penalty kill will probably be hovering around 10th or so in the league when all is said and done, as last year’s unit was ranked 6th.
The powerplay is a much larger concern. It seemed like the Rangers finally answered that problem last year when by trading for Yandle, but it is not the case at the moment. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the trade. Losing Anthony Duclair is painful. Losing a first round pick is painful. But it is not like they got a shoddy player in return. Yandle is still a top-30, maybe even top-2o defenseman in the league. He can keep the puck in the zone better than almost any player we’ve seen. He is only 29 years old and, with his play style, can probably be effective for another 7-8 years (Mark Streit and Lubomir Visnovsky come to mind here) should he stay healthy.
So why isn’t the power play working? That’s what was the point of this trade was, but could this come down to the coaching staff shooting themselves in the foot?
In a Twitter conversation yesterday, the ability to limit shot attempts against while on the penalty kill came up. It’s been known that the Rangers have an elite penalty killing unit. They’ve always been in the top-ten in the league in killing penalties, but much of that was attributed to having Henrik Lundqvist in net. Lundqvist is certainly an All World goalie, but he’s not the only penalty killer out there.
To best evaluate individual success –independent of the goaltender– is to evaluate shot attempts against while the player is on the ice in these situations. It’s not perfect, but it is certainly a helper to evaluate. Looking at last year’s numbers (FA/60), the Rangers have had some elite talent on the penalty kill, especially at forward.
As the New York Rangers powerplay continues to struggle, one area that has become a glaring issue is the lack of right-handed shots, specifically those that can be used on the powerplay. Last week I looked at the 1-3-1 powerplay the Rangers use, and how Dan Boyle’s presence as the QB has kept penalty killers honest.
The main purposes of the 1-3-1 is to create multiple passing lanes for easy shots on net. This is accomplished by having shooters at the circles on their off-wings. The problem is that the Rangers have just two right-handed shots that can play on the powerplay: Boyle and Derek Stepan. Outside of that, their only righties are Lee Stempniak, Dan Girardi, Kevin Klein, and Jesper Fast. Girardi is not the answer on the powerplay, as outlined by Kevin Power of Blueshirt Banter. Klein has a rocket of a shot, but that’s all he has for that spot. Fast is unknown to be honest, and Stempniak has exactly zero powerplay points.
Rick Nash has always been a solid penalty killer, a legitimate threat to provide offense even while down a man. Over his career, Nash has 20 shorthanded goals, with three already coming this season. Nash is so efficient on the PK because he has that rare combination of hockey IQ and skill. He uses these to anticipate passes, disrupt passing lanes, and generate odd-man rushes.
I’m a bit limited in my resources, since I’m basically just taking pictures of my TV as examples, so I only have one example of when it failed (hence the double-edged sword). We know when it succeeds, as these are the plays that we see turn into rushes up the ice. But when it fails, it temporarily leaves him out of position.
If you’ve been a Ranger fan for a while, then you know that once Jaromir Jagr, Michal Nylander, and Martin Straka departed New York, the powerplay has been atrocious. It got to the comical point where fans were screaming to just pass on the powerplay and play 5v5 hockey instead. It’s something that really hampered some of the pre-Alain Vigneault teams.
When AV came on board with Scott Arniel, the Rangers started running a hybrid 1-3-1
/umbrella powerplay, a nice variation on the usual umbrella that the Rangers used to run under John Tortorella. Last year’s powerplay was frustrating, but luckily the second unit (Mats Zuccarello-Benoit Pouliot-Derick Brassard) found enough chemistry to carry them.