Archive for Special Teams
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.
Martin covered Boyle’s impact yesterday, but here’s a little more. It’s Thanksgiving week so forgive me for not rewriting this one.
Though contract length and roster construction played a part, the Rangers basically chose between two distinct skill sets when they elected not to re-sign Anton Stralman and inked Dan Boyle as his replacement in July.
The argument for Boyle was that he was the true offensive defenseman the team had long lacked and a stud power play quarterback. The argument for Stralman was that he was among the league’s best possession players and had emerged as New York’s best defender other than Ryan McDonagh.
While Boyle missed the first five weeks of the season with a broken wrist, the patchwork Rangers’ defense often looked like it might get lit up in beer league and the power play was as inept as always. Meanwhile, Stralman was racking up points at an unprecedented rate and was called “nothing short of sensational” by his new coach, Jon Cooper. Read More→
It’s no secret the Rangers power play has been the subject of much criticism for seemingly the last decade and this season had been no different up until the return of Dan Boyle. The Rangers have been constantly, and unsuccessfully, looking for a man to run the point since the days of Brian Leetch and it seems as though they may have finally found someone more than competent to do so in Boyle.
In the past five games since the return of Boyle, the Rangers power play has looked much better and certainly more consistent. However the five games leading up to Boyle’s return shows that the Rangers power play was beginning to produce more shot attempts:
It’s always difficult to evaluate a player’s postseason performance. Stakes are high. Blood pressures are through the roof. Sample sizes are small. Right now opinions of our top forwards range from “hey their puck possession numbers are terrific, they’re just not scoring,” to “they **** suck, trade them!” As always, somewhere between apathy and empathy is where reality lies.
For me, I don’t think any of these guys deserve the vitriol they’re receiving, but that’s not to say they don’t need to play better. They need to step it up and if they do not, they shouldn’t be immune from criticism, so long as it’s constructive.
Right now, Rick Nash, Brad Richards, and to some extent Derek Stepan aren’t playing to their capabilities. And make no mistake, unless these guys go full throttle from here on out, we can kiss our Cup dreams goodbye.
The problem is I don’t see one consistent issue with all of these players. Everyone’s troubles seem a little different and that puts AV in a tough spot. And that’s not to suggest AV should get a pass. He’s wallpaper at this point, but that’s an article for another day.