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Category: Special Teams

Our top players need to be better

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

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.

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If only the New York Rangers had a powerplay

Richards who has been strong so far, has 2 points on the powerplay. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Note: Goal breakdown will be up this afternoon. Sorry about the delay.

The Rangers won in impressive style in Pittsburgh on Friday night. Impressive because they were hard on the puck, they were opportunistic but most importantly when they lost their lead, they didn’t panic and worked their way back in to a solid position. They handled – at least for game one – the surges that eventually came from Pittsburgh over the final two periods. The Rangers were around Fleury all night which resulted in the game winning goal but which also begs the question; why can’t the powerplay convert?

We’ve mentioned it before but Benoit Pouliot (surely the recipient of a shiny new deal from the Rangers this summer) goes hard to the net and he gets rewarded. The Rangers best line of Zuccarello – Brassard – Pouliot are consistently a creative force and something that is missing from the powerplay, their line is always moving, always busy and always looking for the puck. The fact is, game one of this series would have been won well before overtime had the Rangers managed to convert on the powerplay. The talent is there, the execution isn’t.

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Should the Rangers retain Brian Boyle?

(Scott Levy/NHLI/Getty Images)

(Scott Levy/NHLI/Getty Images)

With the regular season coming to an end in a few short weeks, speculation will increase as to whether Brian Boyle should be retained or not. For the right price, Glen Sather should absolutely keep Boyle – for the short term. It may be Boyle’s demands that scupper any extension with New York, but from a pure skill perspective he still fills multiple needs for the Rangers.

The Rangers are not a good face-off team. Derek Stepan is at best inconsistent in the face-off circle and, with Brad Richards likely to leave in the summer, the Rangers definitely need some face-off proficiency wherever they can get it. This is a big reason why keeping Boyle is a wise move. Boyle is a solid defensive player (he’s one of the best fourth line players in the game) and he’s essential to the penalty kill, A big part of that is because of his face-off ability.

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Where would the Rangers be without their power play?

Derick Brassard has been money on the power play lately

Encouraging signs have been far and few between for much of the 2013-2014 season, but somehow the Blueshirts remain a single point out of a playoff spot in the awful Metro Division.

One of the chief reasons New York has been able to hang around is its suddenly potent power play.  What was a team weakness for years has turned into a huge strength – and if the Rangers do end up making the playoffs in the spring, improved special teams might be the No. 1 reason.

At even strength, the Blueshirts have tumbled down the league rankings.  New York’s offense ranked 15th in the league last season, but is 24th this year.  The team’s once vaunted defense and goaltending allowed the fourth-fewest goals against last year, but is ranked just 15th during the current campaign.

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Initial powerplay units from practice

Per Pat Leonard, the Rangers practiced the powerplay for an extended period of time today with two distinct units:

PP1: Marc Staal-Brad Richards, JT Miller-Derek Stepan-Rick Nash

PP2: Michael Del Zotto-Dan Girardi, Benoit Pouliot-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello

Miller getting the nod on the powerplay is likely due to Ryan Callahan’s absence. Considering Rick Nash’s goal locations from last season, it’s fair to assume that he will continue to slide in at the off-wing. One of Stepan or Cally will play the off-wing on the other side (both right-handed shots), with the other sticking in front of the net. Staal and Richards will, naturally, be on the point.

It is interesting to see that Del Zotto was knocked to the second powerplay unit, after getting a lot of time on the top unit the past few years. My guess with those forwards on PP2: Go with what works at even strength.

Projecting the penalty killing forwards

Derek Dorsett, penalty killing machine (Image Credit: Getty Images)

Derek Dorsett, penalty killing machine (Image Credit: Getty Images)

September is almost upon us, which means that we are getting closer and closer to hockey season. The Rangers didn’t make any major overhauls this offseason, so what you saw last year is pretty much the same team you will get this year. Some much-needed depth was added, which absolutely makes this team better, but the personnel essentially remained untouched. That said, those new additions had a bit of a ripple effect on the special teams, and we could see some new faces on the penalty kill.

Last season Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, Darroll Powe, and Brian Boyle received the majority of the penalty kill time, playing over 1.5 minutes/60 down a man (courtesy of BTN). That ripple effect mentioned above was in reference to Powe, who might not be dressing on a nightly basis. With one of their top-three PKers gone, Boyle will obviously move up to fill Powe’s role. There are two options for that fourth penalty killer: Carl Hagelin (the obvious choice), or Derek Dorsett (who played 1.78 minutes/60 on the PK with Columbus before his injury).

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Lack of right handed shots a cause for concern for the powerplay

Sad, sad truth.

Sad, sad truth.

This past offseason, the Rangers addressed their biggest holes, signing and trading for depth players that will likely play a key role in this team’s push for a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. While there are still some questions to be answered (mostly around line formations), perhaps the biggest area for concern heading into the season is the lack of right-handed shots, specifically those that can play on the powerplay.

The current right-handed shots on this club are Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, Arron Asham, Derek Dorsett, Dan Girardi, and Anton Stralman. That’s four forwards (of which only one will likely be in the lineup) and two defensemen. Compounding this is the fact that only two of them can realistically perform well on the powerplay (Stepan, Callahan). Dorsett and Asham won’t sniff PP time, Girardi really doesn’t play well there, and Stralman has just one year of success on the powerplay. That year was 2009-2010 when Stralman put up 4-18-22 on the Columbus powerplay, but hasn’t even come close to that since.

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A look at the PPGs against the Rangers this season

Thanks again LAR.

Thanks again LAR.

I again would like to thank LAR (Loyal Anonymous Reader) for providing the graphic you see above. LAR put this together to show the locations of all 25 powerplay goals scored against the Rangers this season. From the graphic, you can tell that the Rangers have a particular weakness against deflections and rebounds in front of the net, that’s where half of the goals were scored.

This shouldn’t surprise many, as we’ve had many goal breakdowns where we highlighted one defenseman in front of the net, and another one out of position. This occurs more often than we would like, and it’s very often we find a defenseman in No Man’s Land, out by the face off dot or higher. When that happens the opposition outnumbers the remaining defenseman in front and it’s easy for them to get the goal.

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The locations of each powerplay goal scored this season

All NYR PPGs.

All NYR PPGs.

A very loyal reader, who prefers to remain anonymous, spent his own time and effort to create a graphical depiction of where the Rangers have scored their powerplay goals this season, represented in the image above (click for a larger image). This is fantastic stuff, and when it was sent to me, I noticed some very interesting trends.

The first thing that jumped out at me, something that the “loyal anonymous reader” pointed out, is that Ryan Callahan is always in front of the net. If there’s a rebound goal scored with the man advantage, you can safely assume it was Cally who scored the goal. Two of his goals are actually from really bad angles for a right-handed shot (the two black dots on the left by the goal line).

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Torts’ penalty killing horses being identified

Howard Simmons/New York Daily News

Howard Simmons/New York Daily News

During last night’s second straight convincing win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Rangers started becoming what we expected of them. It took about ten games to shake off the rust and get accustomed to the season, which is what we expected. As players get used to playing the game again, they also get used to the roles they will be playing for the team this year.

Last night we saw the coaching staff deploy ten different players on the penalty kill, with eight being used for at least 1:30 (give or take 5 seconds). These eight players are clearly the workhorses on the kill, and while there are some usual suspects, it’s not all who you would expect. It’s also interesting to see the two players who were used for under a minute –Rick Nash, Carl Hagelin– were two players we expected to get a decent amount of time on the kill. Although their ice time shows that they will be used to relieve the other forwards when tired.

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