Special Teams

Rangers’ retool provides interesting penalty kill scenarios

Michael Grabner

Before the summer officially began, rumors were swirling that the Rangers would be retooling their roster to become a competitive team sometime in the near future. Here we are almost in August and we have seen the organization make moves to not only become a quicker team, but also a younger team.

While I still believe there is more fallout to come after the Derick Brassard trade, the current look of this team presents us fans with some interesting story lines to follow over the course of the year. The defense still has work to be done but I think the major moves will be catalyzed by the upcoming expansion draft. Until then, this defense unit will be put into new situations and we can possibly begin to plan out which players may have expanded roles either later this season or the Shattenkirk season (yes he will sign with here, I already bought his jersey).

Some of the bigger question marks surrounding how this team looks thus far are the special teams; especially since most of the moves made this summer were to fix the penalty kill. There will be some changes to the penalty kill in the short term and potentially long term coming from these moves.

At this moment the Rangers have a vast number of choices to mix and match with when they are down a man during the game. This includes Derek Stepan, Rick Nash, Jesper Fast, Mika Zibanejad, Michael Grabner, Josh Jooris, possibly Oscar Lindberg when healthy, and Nathan Gerbe (Marek Hrivik is an option if he makes the team). This flexibility not only provides choices, it also provides the valuable peace of mind that rest can be given to the weary during the game without detracting much from the on ice product.

Grabner was the most publicized signing to fix the PK. His game revolves around speed and he uses his skating to be an effective aggressive penalty killer. If we look at some of the penalty killers during his time in Toronto here, we can see that Grabner ranks at the top of his teammates in CF% while shorthanded. While he does let up some chances, Grabner also can push the pace while down a man giving the Rangers a chance to get a shorthanded goal.

It should also be pointed out that Grabner was far and away the go to forward penalty killer in Toronto, playing nearly 100 more minutes shorthanded than the player behind him. Grabner’s future with the Rangers is intriguing. Although he has two years on his deal, it does qualify him to likely be exposed during the expansion draft, so I do wonder if he will only be a Ranger this season.

Zibanejad was the “big” acquisition this summer, and has all of the tools to become a jack of all trades for the New York Rangers. I am excited to talk about his likely powerplay contributions next week, but for now Zibanejad can likely become a major staple on the PK as well. We can start off with the tweet that the Rangers PR department posted:

Zibanejad was the youngest special team ace in the NHL last season, and I think we are all excited to see him create that niche hear in New York too. While there are many studies suggesting that faceoffs may not be as important at even strength, it would be wise to highlight that Mika Zibanejad excels at them, which will play an important role shorthanded.

The best stat that I can think of for all of your faceoff information is puckbase.com, and when we look at Zibanejad here we will see that he been progressing over his career regarding faceoff success. Zibanejad also showed that he was able to win faceoffs regardless of which hand his opponent preferred. At times some players do in fact get a stat boost because they are dominant against left handed centers yet Zibanejad showed above 50% against all opponents.

From my time watching Grabner/Zibanejad, I feel that pairing them together will provide a dangerously effective PK. While Grabner uses his speed to pressure the opponent into giving pucks away, Zibanejad uses his body to get the puck off a player. Having someone like Grabner or maybe even someone like Gerbe being like a gnat on the opposition forcing them to throw pucks faster gives someone like Zibanejad the opportunity to steal pucks away at a higher efficiency. Once that happens, given Zibanejad’s natural talent, a shorthanded scoring chance is possible.

Jooris is the wildcard here. He is regarded as one of the better defensive players in the league and I do believe many of the Blueshirt faithful will enjoy this gritty pest suiting up every night. Unfortunately, Jooris’ promising rookie year wasn’t built upon last year on the surface, digging deeper tells a different story.

Jooris had an operation on his hand similar to the hand surgery that is carried out by mark pruzansky md at his Manhattan clinic. He was playing on a pretty bad line when not with Johnny Hockey. In the limited tape I have watched, Jooris is a little mix using his speed and gritty play to get the pucks off the opposition both 5v5 and on the PK. That said, I also noticed much of the chances that came off his stick on the PK were created by an outlet pass from one of his teammates. Ideally, I’d like to see Jooris with Lindberg together in a similar fashion to Grabner/Zibanejad.

Next week, I’m going to check in on the powerplay. Stay tuned.

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      • Umm, he’s exactly what ‘you’ want, not me. Like forwards on my checking line to be over 5’5″ tall. There is a reason he was acquired for a bag of pucks.
        As a point of comparison, the Pens 4th line consisted of
        Kuhnhackl – 6’2″ 205
        Cullen – 6’1″ 200
        Fehr – 6’4″ 212
        With the arrival of Zika, Grabner, (and Joost) the team has addressed the PK needs. If Gerbe is playing, that means someone is hurt or armageddon has begun on the season.

    • Honestly, I somewhat agree with you. I think he’s a fine extr to have but I feel that if Hrivik will be given a chance he may be a better candidate for that spot. Young, defensively responsible and uses his body. Gerbe can just be a fallback option

  • The Rangers PK was brutal last year. More speed should help them get to those loose pucks and force turnovers. The loss of Brassard, Yandle and Boyle leaves the P.P in question, as I believe they have taken a step backwards. Shattenkirk would sure go a long way in filling this void.

  • Josh has hit on what I think to be the single biggest problem we encountered last year and what caused our season to devolve into nothingness. Special teams.

    Our PK was dreadful, and NYR ranked 25th overall. Even Hank was terrible on the PK. Our 5v5 play was top notch, but the PK took the season away from us.

    The Rangers were + 33 goals at 5v5, third best in the league, but only 11th overall factoring in all situations. In two years, NYR save percentage on penalty kill has dropped over 4%. That’s an awful stat with the worlds best goalie. In fact, Hank had only the 48th best save percentage among goalies with over a hundred short handed minutes last year. FORTY EIGHTH! That’s how bad everyone connected with the penalty kill was. Of the goalies who played the most minutes last year, Hank was number one in 5v5 save percentage, but near the bottom in penalty kill with a save percentage almost 10% LOWER! Yikes. So, the PK wasn’t just the forwards, it was a team-wide disaster. Yes, there were a lot of tap ins, and cross ice one timers from bad set ups, and a lot of chasing around, but 10% lower!!

    Moore and Fast were the worst forwards on the PK, and Rick Nash was the best. His long term absence during the middle part of the season impacted our ability on the PK. Of course, DG struggled but so did McD.

    Our return to previous levels while maintaining 5v5 dominance CAN bring us hope that we will be better than the doom and gloomers (me included, I think we will be a bubble team). But, that means both of our goalies will have to be stellar on the PK like Talbot was a couple of years ago when he did the impossible and pulled a 95% Sv on the PK.

  • Guys, guys, guys! I think I have found our answer for what random has-been NHLer the Rangers will PTO this season! There’s some buzz out there that Maxim Lapierre is being offered a try-out…

  • Gorton has done a great job this off season in getting the speed and PK help we needed. Getting younger is always a big plus as well.

    I would like to ask all you Rangers fans to send MSG emails as to why there is NO coverage of the draft, free agent signings, or trades in the off season. I had to go to Ottawa radio stations to hear an interview with the newest Ranger. This is suppose to be the biggest and best city in the world. We are one of the highest priced tickets as well but yet where is the coverage we deserve? Why can’t there be a once a month off season update on the team we love? It’s not like MSG is covering baseball in the summer!
    Come on MSG give us what we deserve when we pay all we pay to be Ranger fans. PLEASE everyone lets email them!

    • I will not copy and paste from an other website!
      I copied and pasted my I will not copy statement.
      I am addicted to copy and paste!

      Even when we have coverage, MSG makes sure no one asks questions about Glass and Leopold. I think there is a conspiracy going here. Sam and that masculine neutral guy will not say one bad thing about Leopold and praise him to the hilt.

      hilt means handle of a weapon or tool, especially a sword, dager or knife

  • JG is 1 or 2 moves away from STELLA Status…

    my guess is – his hands are a bit tied and full trying to complete the moves giving his inheritance…

    PK = Check
    Defensive minded Asst Coach = Check
    Smart Contracts = Check
    Younger = Check
    Improved Speed = Check

    theres gotta be more Checks… anyone?

    • That defense….if he can find a taker for DG or MS, then no vote needed for GM of the Year.

  • The PK may have better forwards, but Beuk needs to formulate pairs for the backend as well. Not sure you can use Klein on the PK, but Stall usually is okay back there. Snow angels usually do not help, so not sure if Girardi plays too much on the PK, so it may be McD/Staal & McIlrath/Skjei as the defensive pairs (or some combo of those 4).

    Don’t see how we are addressing the piss-poor PP yet, unless we actually give either McIlrath or Skjei a shot at the point along with Big Z down low.

    • Mika will likely supplant Stepan on the #1 PP. Setting up on the left wing half boards and trying to sneak in for one timers. I imagine the #1 PP will be Mika, Nash in front, Kreider or Miller on the left taking over for Brass, McD up top with Zucc playing the other point.

        • I could care less about the point shot.

          I want someone back there that can walk the line with the puck, lug the puck up ice if need be, make crisp passes to his teammates, and has the coordination to keep the puck in the zone while not exposing himself to potential breakaways.

          Having a great shot on the point for the PP is less and less important as teams clog the slot more and more. It’s nice to have, but it’s not a necessity like it used to be.

  • Josh

    Nice write up, and some very solid points to think about!!!!!!!

    The PK should be much better than last year, how could it not be??????

    The PP will improve due to Z replacing Step as the #1 unit center, also a right shot, all good!!!!!!!!!!

    Question, and I though about this many times last season, why wasn’t Oscar used more on the PK???? I loved D Moore, but he and Swifty were poor to say the least, why didn’t they put Oscar out there with Fast ??????

    Someone above mentioned that Dan should not be on the PK any longer, I have to agree, and for what it’s worth, DMC did a decent job when asked to PK………..

    Speed kills, and more speed kills more, nice to see we got the message !!!!!!!!

    • In my opinion it’s age is why Lindberg wasn’t used. It is odd because he is also an ace on faceoffs. Think he will be on the PK sooner rather than later.

      • Let’s hope so…………..What the heck is it with the coach and young kids?????????? Oh well, no need to kick a dead horse, we won’t see too many changes this year either I suspect !!!!!!!!

  • The Rangers PK will be disastrous again because our coach doesn’t change his tactics and continues to trot out Girardi and staal. As long as that is occuring, it doesn’t matter who the forwards are.

  • I’m very pleased by the type of players they brought in for PK. You have to think maybe they learned a lesson from Paille as one example, who was brought in expected to improve PK and was actually just plain an embarrassment in that area. His game is no longer as relevant as it was a few years back when he earned a reputation on PK. What largely made a good PKer even as recently as a few years ago – size, grit, jam, snarl, etc. – just doesn’t apply as much right now. Not to say those characteristics can’t be useful too, mind you. However, simply put, the way the best NHL teams are playing right now…possession skills, speed, and motor have become more important in a PKer. I’m excited to see what a faster and more pesky PK group can accomplish.

    • I couldn’t agree more my man. It will be interesting to see if AV trots Glass out there again for the PK??? Now that is, was, and will always be a joke !!!!!!!!!!!

  • I just read an article on Blueshirts United, where Chris Kreider stated:

    I just want to be a bully, hammering my game home on a consistent basis, simplify my game and rely on the physical attributes I have, that’s the player I want to be,” stated Kreider. “In my mind there are not a lot of players like that in the league, so I want to be that player on a nightly basis. I want to be really hard to play against.”

    This is music to my ears, and I would bet management probably told him to work on his physical game. This will drive AV up a wall, he likes the puss version of the game better. If Chris does as stated, he may well have that breakout year we all have been waiting for, and may well hit the 30 goal mark !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Rick Nash said before that he thinks Kreider’s bad reputation throughout the league and among refs caused him unconsciously to play more timidly than he had say back when he used to “run” goalies.

    • This is why I wanted him to spend time with Mess, the bully factor. Speed & physicality in the same player is a gift from the Gods!

    • That all sounds good but I remember Kreider saying before last season that he wanted to be like that and was gonna take boxing lessons from Fotiu and then never showed up. Let’s see what happens. He’s a year older now and more mature I would think. Also hope he gets back to flying over the blue line and not stopping to look to pass and just keep going to the net fast and hard. That makes him hard to play against right there. It’s not easy to defend a 6ft 3 225lb guy that’s flying past you.

  • The PK? Problem solved with these moves. And let’s not forget that the PK was atrocious when Nash was hurt. Getting him back helps the PK as well. It will be interesting to have him and Grabner as threats on the ice for shorties, of which the Rangers had very few last year.

  • The PK needed to be fixed & it has been. Grabner, Jooris, Nash, Stepan, Z, Gerbe/Lindberg. No need for Fast on the PK, because he looked lost out there on PK last year.

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