Concerns with the Kreider-Stepan-St. Louis line

The New York Rangers have been rolling lately, and when you’re rolling, you don’t mess with what works. That said, there is a growing concern with the second line of Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Martin St. Louis. The line, which has been together for almost 50 games thus far, has been very inconsistent, with all three experiencing prolonged scoring droughts. They’ve been prone to defensive lapses, and simply haven’t driven puck possession (all of this at even strength). That’s a trifecta of issues that can cause concern.

Starting with scoring, Stepan is in the middle of a six-game scoring drought and has just two assists in his last eight games. Of course, he has seven points (2-5-7) in his three games before this slump, so that needs to be considered as well. But that is still a six-game scoring slump. Also worth noting (although not a major part of this post): Stepan hasn’t registered a point on the powerplay since January 18, and that one point (a goal) is his only powerplay point in 2015.

St. Louis is also scoreless in six games. Aside from a four-game stretch where he put up 4-2-6 from February 16-22, Marty has been wrapped up in a huge scoring slump. Marty has a line of 5-7-12 at even strength in 2015, a span of 29 games.

Kreider has just three goals –his only three points– in his last nine games, but two of those came on the powerplay. At even strength, Kreider has just one goal in nine games. He has a line of just 3-1-4 at even strength in his last 13 games. Despite his lousy recent numbers, he is far from the problem on this line.

Defensively, Stepan and St. Louis have been tire fires (Kreider not so much, surprisingly enough). While difficult to provide in-game gifs/videos for the sake of the post, I’ve noticed that St. Louis and Stepan get caught running around in the defensive zone more often than we are used to. They have the worst SAT/Corsi Against numbers on the team –yes, worse than Tanner Glass– which, to a point, proves they’ve been having issues.

From a possession standpoint, Stepan and St. Louis are the worst relative CF%/SAT% players on the team not named Tanner Glass. Both are deep in the negatives (-5.2% and -3.2%, respectively), and both are under 50% CF/SAT for the season. That, simply put, is not good. We’ve spoken about Stepan’s concerns before, but St. Louis has been equally bad on this front.

NYR player usage
NYR player usage

The chart above shows how they compare to the rest of the team, and it’s quite alarming actually. Focusing on that top right corner, which represents the Rangers’ top-six forwards, you see just two players in red (representing net-negative puck possession): Stepan and St. Louis. Considering that usage (high offensive zone starts), you don’t expect them to be negative possession players, but yet here we are.

For Stepan, this is more alarming since this is so far off from his career averages. The young center hasn’t been a net-negative possession player since the 2011-2012 season, when most of the team consisted of possession vacuums. St. Louis, on the other hand, hasn’t been a net-positive possession player since 2009-2010 (save for a +0.9% season in the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season.

Since it’s Stepan and St. Louis that appear to be most of the problem, let’s look at how they are performing individually with the HERO charts. These charts use this season’s and last season’s data, and plot them on a bar graph compared to the rest of the league. Since we know Stepan/St. Louis are used as top-six players, you expect each of these bars to hit that “2nd line” barrier. First Stepan:

derek stepan
Rough possession numbers.

From this chart, we can see that Stepan is certainly producing points relative to his role as a top line center, but his possession numbers leave a lot to be desired. His usage-adjusted Corsi/SAT against is barely equal to the expectations of a third liner, while his overall usage-adjusted Corsi%/SAT% is barely that of a second liner. This shows Stepan is offense-first, and may have some defensive issues that have been masked by point totals.

martin st. louis
Even worse possession numbers.

St. Louis’ numbers are even worse than Stepan’s, and he gets much more ice time. Yes, those offensive numbers are great, and it certainly helps deal with his shortcomings as a possession vacuum, but those numbers are drying up of late. Bluntly put: St. Louis doesn’t do much for possession.

Kreider isn’t the type of player that can carry the load from a possession standpoint, but breaking up this line is going to prove to be difficult. The Nash-Brassard-Zuccarello line has been firing on all cylinders for a while now, and the newly formed Hagelin-Hayes-Miller line has been very good with sheltered minutes.

The Rangers may be in a spot where they hope these possession issues work themselves out –at least for Stepan– before the playoffs start. This line is going to be critical to the success, or failure, of the club’s playoff chances.

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  1. Id love to see some video of them in the D zone too. I think that entire line follows along from Stepan. He does so much of the work in the D zone because MSL and Kreider are just horrific. I actually fell out of my chair yesterday when Kreider won a battle along the D-wall and move the puck out of the zone (he used his butt, Forsberg-style to check off the Chicago forward and then moved the puck). But if Stepan and the D pair arent moving the puck out of the zone quickly and the offensive team has the change to set up a forecheck…ooof.

    1. I think Kreider has been doing better with his role (much easier as a W than a C). Unfortunately I just don’t have the time to make GIFs.

  2. I’ve been thinking about this for a while. That line has been bad all season. In the beginning the excuse was that Stepan was coming off a injury. Now it’s become apparent that the second line needs to be broken up. I would try switching Fast for Msl and see how that goes. Last Richards spent time on the fourth line, no reason Msl can’t play there. I’d like to see how Msl reacts with a corsi wizard like moore, and how Stepan reacts with a defensively solid wing.

    1. Not sure if Fast is the right guy for that line, or that MSL fits on the 4th line. AV uses his 4th line in DZ starts, and MSL isn’t suited for that anymore.

  3. Shake em up for a few games.

    Go with a Hagelin, Stepan, MSL line. Hagelin can cover for MSL & Stepan with his speed. Pus, Hags and Step have always had good chemistry.

    Then, have a Miller, Hayes, Kreider line.

    There really is only one #1 line on the team so the third and second lines can switch based on match ups/ run of play. It’ll be good sniffing salt to Stepan and MSL for them to see themselves on the third line for a few games.

    1. Justin

      We agree that Kreider should be put on the line with Hayes, and suggested that last week. The boat anchor on that line, in my opinion, is MSL. H e gets knocked off of his skates too easily, and I don’t believe he really was ever a big possession guy, but could be wrong there?

      Stepan better get his act together, the guy is up for a contract renewal, and he is playing poorly, which should hurt his cause!!!!!!

      Jerry above posted that maybe they should put MSL on the 4th line. It should deflate his ego and get his motor going. I’m afraid he is showing his long teeth, and he just is over the hill….

      1. Walt,
        That was a different “Jerry”. This is the “old” Jerry For what it’s worth, MSL looks very tired and old to me. I’d have no problem seeing him take a substantial cut to stay with this team. I hope Sather is paying attention, as I think his contract expires end of this year. I have noticed Stephan forcing the puck to MSL at times when it would be better served if he shot.
        I am a huge Krieder fan, and we don’t have anyone in the system with his youth, speed and size. He will be a force once he becomes consistent

        1. Agree with most of what you say except he MSL, shouldn’t be re-signed, he has had it, and it’s a waste of a roster spot that could be used for a younger kid!!!!!!!!!!

  4. I am a big believer in unsustainable statistics. You clearly illustrated that Stepan has been very far off from his career averages. One can only assume these negative possession numbers will take a turn towards a positive direction.

    Given AV’s history of line consistency, I doubt this trio will be broken up, as it would change other lines as well.

    Expect to see a slight drop off from other lines if this trio improves as I predict.

    Besides the point, the Rangers put together a few really solid games in a row against a few really solid teams. It seems they are just about ready to peak at just the right time of year. LGR

  5. It’s definitely one of the few issues with this team. MSL seems to fly the zone and look for breakouts, the only time I noticed him last night was when home-run passes were sent his way. Kreider played pretty well

    I don’t hate the idea of mixing the 2nd and 3rd line. Stepan line has had bad possession numbers but are (historically) more proficient 5v5 scorers while the Hayes line has good possession but can’t get it in the net

    Switching either of the wing pairs could balance out the scoring and possession a bit

    As a side note, one issue I have with using HERO charts so frequently is they can’t be customized for certain dates. The ones you have above are since 2012/13. Very different picture than just looking at this season. Would be interested to see what that looks like for just the 14/15 season

  6. MSL is the biggest possession turnover player the team has. If this was a “fancy stat” he would lead the team by far as the last man to touch the puck before the other team takes over. Take a close look at the next game when has the puck. I have been saying this all year. That is what does not help that line.

  7. MSL is old. As the season wears on, you’d expect that he would wear down. He hasn’t had the luxury of having getting time off for the flu or other injuries like Dan Boyle. He simply hasn’t gotten a break.

    If I were AV I’d go to MSL and tell him we’ve got a playoff spot locked up. We want you well rested come playoff time. We’re going to tell the press you’ve got an upper body injury and that you’ll be out for 3-4 weeks. Then I’d call up Lindberg and get a nice long look at how he does during a period of time where there is little to no pressure on the team to win games.

    As far as Step goes, he isn’t doing himself a favor right now, but he may be doing the team a favor. He’s going to have a difficult time commanding a $5.5m contract the way he’s been playing.

    I think the accusations leveled at Duclair are valid in Step’s case. I really question his work ethic and attitude. Some people are harder on themselves then anyone else could ever be and others need to be smacked around when they get lazy. Perhaps AV isn’t the best coach for a player like Step. That’s something only the coaches and management can know and decide.

    1. You are right about MSL but I can’t agree with you on Stepan. Remember, you are talking about a guy that never missed a game in 4 years until he got blindsided by Prust in the playoffs last year. And let’s not forget he only missed a shift or two (he did miss the following game) after having his jaw pureed by that dirty hit. There is nothing wrong with Stepan’s attitude.

      The problem with Stepan is that he’s slow. He’s a fantastic two-way center he just happens to lack foot speed. Watch Stepan closely, he skates hard, he just doesn’t get anywhere, it’s as if he’s skating with a baby grand piano strapped to his back. Stepan and MSL are a terrible combo. MSL is a hard worker but he is an out and out offensive player. MSL plays a high risk game, he’s always looking to fly the zone, make risky passes and take quick, if some times ill-advised shots. MSL needs a more athletic center to help cover his mistakes. Sadly, the Rangers don’t really have that guy available for MSL since Brassard is working so well with Nash and Zucc. At this point in his career, MSL needs a guy like Patrice Bergeron be his center, someone that tilts the ice in his team’s favor.

      If JT Miller wasn’t such a flaming wreck of a center he would be a good guy to slot between MSL and Hagelin. Though, at this point, I think the Rangers need to bite the bullet and try that out anyway. Hagelin did wonders being the legs for Brad Richards’ brain the past three seasons, now he can try to be the defensive conscience for MSL and Miller. I feel like Kreider and Stepan and Kreider and Hayes play really well as twosomes, putting all three of them together they might actually be a terrific second line for the Rangers, they may be so effective that AV would be willing to take a chance with that third line.

      1. I have always thought Stepan was over-rated, but we still need to make him part of a valuable line. If MSL is the boat-achor, then you need to give Stepan a winger that can do something with the puck.

        I like Hags there in place of MSL too. Not sure if MSL does anything for the 3rd line. Maybe MSL does need a few games resting.

        Also like the idea of sitting MSL, moving Hags up and letting Oskar wing it for Hayes and JT.

    2. Spot on with calling up Lindberg and giving MSL a break . We don’t need him right now the way he is playing and a rest is best for the team and him

  8. All I know is there were a lot of complaints last year about Nash who played with Step. He may be the common denominator in equations concerning slumps – both Kreids & MSL have had them this year. As for him being in a slump he looks the same to me. Much is made when they talk about Yandles assist being primary but little is made of Steps assists. As for his goals being down, how many times have you heard wide of the net (which becomes a turnover every time) when he shoots???

  9. Walt,
    The other Jerry made a very good point earlier. What he’s saying is that, a major reason why Stepan isn’t producing like he should is because he’s the only one on that line who is defensively responsible, and I have too noticed Stepan constantly motoring back and making sure the puck is being distributed safely out of the zone. Yes Kreider is definitely looking far better defensively, but I don’t know what’s going on with Marty…

  10. 40-year olds don’t have slumps. They have permanent declines. MSL is just done and it takes a very gutsy coach to tell a fading superstar the truth. Brad Richards hurt the team badly before he was benched. The same is happening with old man St. Louis.

  11. I understand what you’re saying, but it’s sooo easy to just say that Marty, “he’s old, that’s why”. What if he goes on a rampage and starts scoring like crazy, then what do we say? Also, Richie is having a pretty solid year in Chi Town. Im not ready to give Marty the old card quite yet. Just my 2 cents.

  12. This time of the year with the POs a lock lets get everyone a rest for a game or two down the stretch drive . All the D men need a game or two off with Hunwick in for maybe 2 games at a time just to pick spots for each D Man to sit for a game or 2 all except for Yandle with his games streak going .

  13. Though they have been inconsistent, and although they didn’t score, this line played really well last night. Crawford just made some good saves on them.

  14. Yea, MSL was too old and clearly done beig a hockey player during the regular season last year too. Then he was a monster in the playoffs for us. So I’m going reserve jugement on claiming that the hall of famer doesn’t have anymore gas left in the tank.

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