Archive for Special Teams
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 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.
In case you missed it, the Rangers are off to a pretty solid start. Not only are they winning games, they are completely dominating opponents. It’s a welcome change from last year, where goaltending was keeping a mediocre team above water. Speed and skill throughout the lineup has put significant pressure on the opposition, and the Rangers are capitalizing.
While much of our focus on stats is at even strength, since that is where the majority of the game is played, special teams play is critical to the success of a potential Cup contender. Last year, special teams –specifically the penalty kill– crippled the Rangers. They couldn’t consistently score or generate offense on the powerplay, and were Swiss cheese on the penalty kill.
The Rangers spent the entire offseason retooling the forwards with an emphasis on speed, skill, puck possession, and penalty killing ability. The penalty kill will also get a boost with a healthy Rick Nash back in the lineup. However retooling the PK forwards isn’t enough to solve the problem.
The concern with the Rangers was two-fold:
- Aging defensemen that were always out of position or unable to stick their man.
- A system that didn’t play to the strengths of the major minute eaters on the penalty kill.
Last week I talked about how the Rangers’ off season signings can possibly fit as penalty killers. When we look at how GM Jeff Gorton did over the summer, it is easy to be happy that he did do his best in improving the penalty kill. That said, as happy as I am with the steps taken, I am not keen on automatically giving Gorton a pass for Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, as he was likely a big player in the re-signing of them.
We talked about these players a lot and I think we saw one of the most negative effects of having their contracts on the payroll when Keith Yandle was traded. You can hate Yandle because he is not in the realm of Kris Letang or Erik Karlsson. You can hate Yandle because you automatically equate him as the reason the Rangers lost Anthony Duclair. But his ability to move pucks out not only at even strength but also be a valuable player on the power play will be missed. Add a retiring Dan Boyle to the fold, and you just opened up two holes on the back end for both even strength play as well as power play.
Before the summer officially began, rumors were swirling that the Rangers would be retooling their roster to become a competitive team sometime in the near future. Here we are almost in August and we have seen the organization make moves to not only become a quicker team, but also a younger team.
While I still believe there is more fallout to come after the Derick Brassard trade, the current look of this team presents us fans with some interesting story lines to follow over the course of the year. The defense still has work to be done but I think the major moves will be catalyzed by the upcoming expansion draft. Until then, this defense unit will be put into new situations and we can possibly begin to plan out which players may have expanded roles either later this season or the Shattenkirk season (yes he will sign with here, I already bought his jersey).
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.