Are shots off the rush on offense pushing Rangers’ SH% higher?

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The New York Rangers are in the playoffs. But Ryan Lambert of Puck Daddy raised a question that struck a nerve with a lot of fans: Should the Rangers scare anyone? The article uses raw SAT%/CF% and SPSV%/PDO to justify that the Rangers are a poor possession team that are riding a great season of luck. These were some concerns I raised two months ago. I also revisited it one month ago, and found some interesting trends.

But here’s the issue with using just those numbers: It doesn’t take into account certain variables (like systems and rush shots, more to come), it doesn’t break down trends, and it looks at a full season instead of how a team is playing now. Not all numbers can be taken in a vacuum, some need context. This is one of those times where context is needed.

First things first: Lambert is correct when he says the Rangers aren’t the best puck possession team and that they have an unnaturally high SPSV%/PDO. But that’s about the only thing he’s 100% right with. I’ve tackled New York’s possession in the past, but we can revisit here.

Using score-adjusted FF/USAT (better for cross-team comparisons, as it eliminates system bias for shot blocking) as of December 1, the day the Rangers had both Ryan McDonagh and Dan Boyle in the lineup for the first time, the Rangers are sporting a 51.4% possession rate. That’s mediocre, at 14th in the league and 7th in the Eastern Conference. Their last 11 games have been pretty bad though:

USAT%/FF% as of 12/1, rolling 10-game average

USAT%/FF% as of 12/1, rolling 10-game average

Games against Buffalo (74.5%) and Ottawa (60.7%) are the only two games above 50% possession for the Rangers during that 11-game stretch. But yet, the Rangers kept winning. Based on raw SPSV%/PDO (Rangers are tops in the league at 102.1 since December 1), one can make the conclusion that this is all luck driven. But that may not be the case with the Rangers.

We all know the Rangers are sporting an unnaturally high SH% at 8.7% since December 1 and 8.9% for the season. That part we know. But let’s get into this in a deeper dive.

The Rangers are built on speed. On offense, this means long passes, speed through the neutral zone, and getting that trailer in on the rush, trapping forecheckers and outnumbering the opposition as they gain controlled zone entries. We see this all the time with the “Chris Kreider play,”

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The Kreider play, Stepan with the puck outlets to Kreider off the boards for a chance off the rush.

the stretch passes from blue line to blue line,

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This is the end result of a Yandle pass (from NYR’s blue line) to Hayes, creating a rush.

and cross-ice passes to the trailer following zone entry.

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Trailer (Boyle) joining the rush, created off a turnover in the defensive zone.

All three of these plays happened against the Ottawa Senators last week.

On defense, the Rangers use their speed with one forechecker deep, two on the blue line, and then two on the red line to pressure the opposition into turnovers, something else that was on display against Ottawa.

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Speed/Forecheck creates turnovers.

The forecheckers close the gap well, and the puck support in case of a turnover is ready to transition, thus creating more chances off the ensuing transition rush.

The common theme here is the rush. This is an area of shot quality analysis that has trended towards the notion of not all shots are created equal. It’s something that we know to be theoretically true, but has been tough to quantify with the tools available. Hockey Analysis has taken a stab at it though, and has concluded what we believe to be true: Chances generated off the rush have a higher SH% than league average SH%.

Hockey Analysis defines a rush shot as:

  • A shot within 10 seconds of a shot attempt by the other team on the other net.
  • A shot within 10 seconds of a face off at the other end or in the neutral zone.
  • A shot within 10 seconds of a hit, giveaway or takeaway in the other end or the neutral zone.

It’s not perfect, since it omits turnovers in the high-risk area from the blue line to the top of the circle in the offensive zone (this is where the Boyle goal above comes from). That’s a small, though important, subset of attempts. But for the sake of this post, and for the sake of the types of goals we generally see from the Rangers (noted above), it more than suffices.

The article from Hockey Analysis shows that the Rangers jumped from a SH% under 7% on non-rush shots to a 9% shooting team* for rush shots. Hockey Analysis also shows that SV% drops by about 2% when a goalie is facing a rush shot*. The Rangers were also second in the league to Boston over a three year period for percentage of shots that are rush shots (25.72%).

*-This is using last season’s data.

This year, the Rangers have the largest difference of shots taken off the rush this year from last year, up 7.24%. That 7.24% increase in rush shots has led to a 2.47% increase in raw SH%.

Last season, the Rangers took 33.2 shots per game over 82 games, which is roughly 2,722 shots. Of that, 25.72% –700 shots– came on the rush (based off a three year average, best I can do here). The Rangers take 31.4 shots per game this season. Multiply that by the 75 games they’ve played this season, and you get 2,355 shots this season. Their number of rush shots this year is up 7.24% from 25.72% to 32.96%. So the number of rush shots this season, thus far, is 776.

Based on numbers from HA, here’s the best I can do for a breakdown of these numbers from last year to this:

Season Shots Overall SH% Rush Shots Rush SH% Rush Goals Non-Rush SH% Non Rush Goals
2013-2014 2722 6.70% 700 10.09% 71 6.40% 129
2014-2015 2355 8.70% 776 12.50% 97 7.60% 120

These are rough estimates, as this stuff isn’t readily available for me to break down on my own. I have to rely on raw shot data (which apparently varies from site to site), some limited single season data from last year (from Hockey Analysis), and three year averages (also from HA). These numbers will not match up to actuals. Until this is readily available, this is the best I can do here, sorry.

I got to the increased SH% this year by simply taking the three-year SH% averages in rush/non-rush shots and adding the 2.47% increase noted above manually. I’m aware that’s not how it works, but again, guess work here.

Let’s theorize a bit here. First what we know:

  • SH% goes up on rush shots while SV% goes down, for the most part.
  • The Rangers are styled to get more chances off the rush.
  • The Rangers statistically got more shots off the rush than the rest of the league over the previous three seasons.
  • The Rangers statistically generate more shots off the rush this season than last year.
  • The Rangers have seen an increase in SH% from last year to this year.

So we, from the above, we can reasonably and logically theorize that the Rangers will have a higher SH% than the league average. This, unfortunately, is something we cannot actually prove, but we have enough facts that point us in this direction. Maybe, just maybe, the Rangers’ high SH% is due to their score-off-the-rush design.