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.
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:
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.
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."Concerns with the Kreider-Stepan-St. Louis line",