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.
But balancing out those major issues are the much-improved special teams. The Rangers’ power play ranks eighth, up from 23rd a year ago. The penalty kill has also improved dramatically, up from 15th last year to seventh this season. With the rest of the team struggling mightily, the importance of those units can’t be overstated. The extra goal gained here and there from the PP has been huge – in fact, nine times this year the Blueshirts owe wins or OT bonus points to goals scored on the man advantage.
The power play’s impact has been felt most on the road, where an extra goal can make an enormous difference. New York already has 31 power play goals this year, up from 24 a year ago. But they scored just eight road power play goals last year, fewest in the league. This season New York has already racked up 18 power play goals on the road, third-most in the NHL.
We’ve all seen the importance of special teams in recent years when the Rangers have often been a very good team, but couldn’t get that crucial goal when given golden man advantage opportunities. We’re seeing a different side of that this year, when the special teams have actually buoyed the club, and those extra goals scored and prevented have meant the difference between remaining in the playoff race, and looking ahead to the draft lottery.
*All stats entering Monday night’s action.