We are 24 games into the season, and we’ve seen a Rangers team that has wowed us, depressed us and made us feel every feeling in between. No matter where you sit on the spectrum of the Rangers play, you are likely happy with the 16-7-1 start to the season. If not, then you are likely happy with the +29 goal differential thus far. If not, then well then I’m assuming you hate the coach.
We’ve seen enough of the Rangers that we can evaluate their performance and perhaps what’s to come for the rest of the season. Joe Fortunato did a wonderful job of reviewing if you should be worried about the club, something you should check out, and this is likely going to cover a lot of the same points. I had this post planned for today, so I’m going to write it anyway. Sue me Joe.
The raw numbers
The raw numbers for the Rangers are both impressive and worrying at the same time:
- 33 points (2nd in the NHL)
- +29 goal differential (1st)
- 88 goals scored (1st by a mile)
- 59 goals allowed (13th)
- 21.1 PP% (9th)
- 85.5 PK% (6th)
- 47.13 even strength CF% (score, zone, venue adjusted) (27th)
- 51.37 CF/60 (28th)
- 57.62 CA/60 (20th)
- 55.46 SCF% (scoring chances) (3rd)
- 11.01 SCF/60 (2nd)
- 8.84 SCA/60 (18th)
- 11.6% shooting rate (1st)
- 92.21 SV% (17th)
- 103.81 PDO (1st)
- 52.91 xGF% (expected goals-for) (7th)
- Measures expected goals based of shot quantity, type, location, distance, etc.
Using just the raw numbers, you can see why the fan base is a little divided. The Rangers are a scoring machine. Even as that SH% drops, they are one of the few teams that have 4+ lines of skill (the + is for the outstanding injury depth). But that’s the thing, the SH% is going to drop, meaning their current 3.67 goals/game pace is going to fall.
As that scoring drops, the defensive woes are going to become more apparent. By any measure, the defense is not holding it’s own. They are trending downward after a good start (more on trends in a bit). They are already in the bottom-third in allowing shot attempts, and the bottom-half in allowing quality attempts. The inability to start a breakout from the defensive zone is apparent in the CF/60 numbers, as the team is unable to sustain pressure consistently.
The saving grace is the constant forecheck and neutral zone play that forces turnovers. The forwards are very quick and able to pick off those lanes, starting a transition rush for quality scoring chances.
If the Rangers are to continue playing a speed and skill game, then the defense is going to need to start pulling their weight in the breakouts. At the current moment, they seem to be content flipping the puck off the glass and hoping the forwards can get the puck in the neutral zone. That is a strategy that doomed the Rangers last year. Even if the forwards are vastly improved, it’s clear they are carrying this team at the moment.
Hockey is a fun game to watch because it has the most roller coaster rides of any of the four major sports. Teams that start hot fizzle, like last year’s Rangers or Canadiens. Teams that start mediocre gain steam and make a run, like last year’s Penguins.
The concern at this point in the season is that after the hot start, the Rangers are cooling off significantly.
The first trend we look at is the standard CF% trend. It’s been declining since the start of the season. Part of this is because the Rangers had ridiculous leads for so long, though. So while this has some value, especially since the Rangers haven’t had big leads lately, I am shrugging part of this off. The team had consistent three, four, five goal leads until the last two weeks or so.
*-Worth noting that, if comparing this post to Joe’s, he used a 25 game average. I used a 10 game average.
The next trend is scoring chances, which is where the trends start to get a little troubling. Scoring chances are the Rangers’ bread and butter, based on their style of play. However as the injuries mounted and the hot start cooled, the scoring chances have started to decline. They are still in the upper third in the league for their season long numbers, but they are trending downwards fast.
Expected goals for is a measure, as mentioned above, that accounts for shot type, location, quantity, quality, and situation. It accounts for the quantity (CF%), distance, and shot type (wrist, slapper, etc) from that distance. This basically combines your SCF% and CF% numbers and gives you a number of how many goals the team is expected to score.
The Rangers, like with CF% and SCF%, are trending downward here as well. Their season long numbers are good, but the trends are not.
Before getting to my personal conclusion, I’m going to borrow from Joe’s post for the below three points. Thanks Joe for doing the legwork on the below stats.
- The Rangers have yet to win a game where they’ve scored less than three goals.
- The Rangers record when scoring three goals or less is 3-7-1
- The Rangers record when scoring under three goals is 0-7
- This means the Rangers are 3-0-1 when they score exactly three goals. So that seems to be the magic number.
- Last year’s team went 22-28-3 in games where they scored three goals or less. The current team’s pace is roughly a 12-28-4 record when scoring three goals or less.
That is a major problem. The Rangers are relying on an offense that is cooling off to carry them. They might continue to average three goals per game for the regular season, but that does not bode well for the playoffs, where games are usually tighter and significantly lower in scoring.
It’s clear that the Rangers are a team being carried by their forwards. That’s fine, as the forwards are their clear strength and relatively unmatched around the league. They provide matchup nightmares, even when not fully healthy.
But what else is clear is that the Rangers need an upgrade at defense. Or perhaps they just need to rest some of their older guys in a rotation that gets a seventh defenseman more involved. More than likely, it’s both. The older guys have a lot of mileage on them and are clearly slowing down and unable to consistently drive the breakout from the defensive zone. There is also no clear-cut 1RD to play with Ryan McDonagh. And no, Adam Clendening is not a 1RD.
This Rangers club, as currently constructed, is a playoff team. Even as the shooting cools off, the goaltending will get hot at times and again mask some of those defensive woes. But for this club to be a true Stanley Cup contender, an upgrade on defense is needed. If they are truly following the Pittsburgh model, then the team can’t ignore the defensive shift that team went through when Mike Sullivan took over.
A team that plays a speed and skill based game needs players up and down the lineup that can play that game. There’s no need to panic about the team right now, though. This is not last year’s team, but the strengths and weaknesses are eerily similar.