Archive for Special Teams
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.
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?