Poised for improvement, and yet there’s work to be done

The Rangers’ biggest strength at the outset of the season was their depth at forward. Although their early scoring bonanza turned out to be unsustainable, it certainly showed us what four balanced scoring lines are capable of accomplishing – a complete style of play predicated on quick transitions and overwhelming offensive contributions.

Since then things have tapered off a bit, in large part due to the team’s unsustainable shooting percentage but also due to injuries. Missing Rick Nash, Pavel Buchnevich, and Mika Zibanejad has definitely altered the look of the Rangers lineup leading to a dependence on certain players to carry the team on any given night (think Derek Stepan against the Senators or Chris Kreider more recently against Colorado). Certainly when you consider that Matt Puempel is on the second powerplay unit (all due respect to Matt Puempel), it’s evident that the team’s forward depth has taken a hit.

So things are starting to look up as the Rangers’ three biggest injuries prepare to return to the ice, with Rick Nash all but ready and his latter two comrades skating in non-contact jerseys at practice of late.

Nash in particular will help with the team’s struggles defensively, as he’s one of the squad’s better two-way players and sees time on the penalty kill. Zibanejad will also help with special teams play, given the way his one-timer hasn’t really been able to be replaced on the powerplay. Additionally, his even strength points per 60 minutes (P/60) in the 19 games he played is 2.44 (as compared to Kevin Hayes and Derek Stepan’s 1.66 and 2.11 P/60, respectively in 39 games played). His return will bump Hayes down to the third line and Oscar Lindberg to the fourth. This is likely to bring back offensive mojo and help the team come at opponents in waves as they did earlier in the season. Buchenvich’s return will be simply the icing on the cake, allowing AV to move guys like Grabner and Fast further down the lineup and roll four scoring lines.

Still, even with three of their most important offensive players returning to the lineup, the Rangers need to make some changes. We’ve begun to see some improvement on the defensive side of things at least in terms of coaching, with Dan Girardi’s reduced minutes on the third pair. The next logical step in this regard would be sitting Kevin Klein and playing Adam Clendening in his place, finally making the most of the defensive options available to the coaching staff.

Even with these potential changes though, and even with the forward depth filling out once again, will it be enough? The Rangers had a 47.44 CF% against the Coyotes and a 45.78 CF% against the Avalanche. Both of those teams are out of the playoff picture halfway through the season, and yet the Rangers struggled against them (although to be fair, that Colorado game is likely impacted by score effects, so the 45.78 CF% may not be indicative of overall process).

Now perhaps it’s just a case of the Rangers playing to the level of their competition, which they’re known to do, and perhaps it’s just a coincidence that they played two less than stellar games to close out 2016. I mean sure, maybe their next two will be great games and it’ll all even out. Even so, it makes one wonder about this team, and it underscores the need for a true 1RD to balance out the top pair with Ryan McDonagh. This team is about to see an injection of major offensive talent in the coming weeks with the return of Nash, Buch, and Zibanejad but once that happens we’ll see, for better or for worse, what this team really is as currently constructed.

"Poised for improvement, and yet there's work to be done", 4 out of 5 based on 7 ratings.
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  1. I’m of the opinion that Z’s return will shake things up the most. As written, the sniper that he is on the PP, right hand shot, all positives.

    Rick’s defensive play, PK skills, and short handed scoring capabilities, give us that additional damnation. Then his offensive contribution, what can we say??

    With Hayes, and Miller doing a bit of PK, now we have these guys, along with Nash, and Grabner all capable of scoring short handed, that is a pleasant thought. How would you like seeing these guys defend against you, and have them score while your on the PP? I didn’t realize how much these man were missed.

    Buch going back on the second line, with Z, and Kreider, two men feeding Chris, he can have a banner year for himself. I really hope this kid adds a bit of muscle mass on that skinny frame, for his own protection, if nothing else.

    As for the defense, well I’m not going to kick a dead horse, we discussed this topic and until it is addressed, well there really isn’t much more to say !!!!!!!!!

  2. i think the Col game was an indication of the teams thought process. After the first bit we had a CF% of over 80%, after that our CF plummeted to the figures you stated, 5×5. We still think our defense is good enough to go into turtle mode. Luckily for us, Col has just about no one. Do I think that Col took it too us? At times yes but then they’d take a dumb penalty or something else to shoot themselves in the foot.

    While I like the forward depth, our whole offense is based on quick transition and high shooting percentages. As we’ve found, even with Nash in the lineup, opposing teams are taking away our ability to transition by attacking the Defenseman and they have wilted. How did Pitt win last year? Not just by quick transition, but by starting the transition and then owning the puck. Whether it’s system coaching or what, it is not in the Rangers mindset to say “This is our puck, try and take it from us!” When we do possess the puck in the offensive zone, the typical Ranger mentality of “Hey, let’s see how many times we can pass the puck and give the opponent a chance to get a stick on it and clear the zone” begins. This is really evident on the power play, where at least 35 seconds of zone time of just about every power play is them standing still passing and doing nothing.

    I don’t see 3 forwards changing all that much of the current teams dynamic. I do see Zib changing the dynamic of the power play. The defenseman still can’t solidly handle pressure, with exception of Mac, the outlet pass to start. And in case anyone missed it, most teams are now sitting in a 1-3-1, or 1-2-2 taking away the passing lanes.

    And a passing thought. Isn’t it kinda of a bad indication if your team is this dependent on a 20something first year North American pro to be better than 50/50?

    1. We all know the second half of the season is about tighter checking and with the three players returning we will be increasing our shots per game. The problem does still exist with our dmen because they are too slow and can’t move the puck up the ice or keep the puck in the zone for fear of getting burned. This will need to be addressed soon by Gorton or we will exit the playoffs early.

      1. That’s my point. To get shots on net for us, we need to move the puck out quick, and we can’t do that. When we can, the opponent has the neutral zone clogged and things break down.

        I think we’ll continue to fall and make an early exit again. All the Hank haters will come out and blame him again because he couldn’t hold up to multiple high quality scoring chances against a game. I don’t see a deep run in this team as is. Honestly, the tweaks recommended I see getting us to the 2nd round maybe.

        And I know I’m in the minority here, but I don’t want to fall to the Wild Card. I don’t want to go through the Atlantic because its perceived as “easier”. I want the NYR franchise and mindset to be that of a winning organization. I want to beat the best. I don’t want to run and “cower” in a weaker playoff bracket. What does that get us? A deep run into the playoffs, fans thinking Girardi is a shut down defenseman or that the team is better than it is? Have the Yankees ever tried to “duck” the Red Sox? I hate them with a passion but have you ever heard the Patroits say that they don’t want to win the division cause they might have an easier opponent? No. I don’t want “my” team playing for a wild card spot because its easier. I want my team putting out the maximum effort and if the WC is the best we can do, bring it on. I hate tanking. I can stomach tanking to a point if you’re completely out of shit, fielding an AHL level roster and a Conner McDavid is there and all. But we’ve NEVER fielded that.

          1. There have been numerous voices who have said it would benefit us to get out of the Metro division for the playoffs. I’m not going to go through and copy and paste each one.

            I never said we are TRYING to tank. I said, neither the team NOR the fans should WANT to fall to that spot.

          2. I wouldn’t want to tank, but I wouldn’t be upset with the 7 seed. The Atlantic is pretty bad, and letting Washington, CLB, Pittsburgh, and Philly beat on each other wouldn’t be the end of the world.

  3. Has anybody checked recently the standings in the Metropolitan division? The Rangers have the third best goals against among the eight teams: just behind Columbus and Washington. The Rangers goal tending has been very good at times, but not consistently spectacular. I agree that our defense (Especially Dan, who has improved somewhat from last year) is definitely not our strength, by any means, but we still have McD (who is an all-star)., Holden who is solid and has emerged, Skeij who is young and decent, Klein who is average, Staal who has rebounded and is decent, and a seventh D man who hasn’t played bad in his limited time. I’m not saying, by no means, I’m content with this defensive unit, but it has been repeatedly somewhat overstated and exaggerated how terrible they are. Despite key injuries, the Rangers have the speed to back check and help defensively. Third in goals in the Division, against, isn’t that shabby. Let’s get healthy again and watch this team go deep into the playoffs!

    1. To compete against some of the better teams in the league we will need to add a dman with mobility and speed. That is the one element that would push us to be in the top contenders for the cup this season. We are a good team but not good enough to compete for the cup right now.

    2. Standings? Same as last year we rode the hot start, and been average since.

      As for the “goals against”. I’ll do the work, Via Corsica:

      5×5 xGA60 of 2.54
      PK xGA60 of 5.87

      Factoring in the “hot start” we’re averaging 9.93 xSCF60, and a 9.19 xSCA60 (Scoring Chance For/Against). That puts us at 6th worst in the league.

      Removing the “hot start” and just December: 8.62 xSCF60, and 9.29 xSCA60. Still 6th worst. Only worse “playoff” teams than us, Wash and Pitt, but they boast xSCF of 10+ each. Other than them, only teams worse than us in Dec, the Coyotes, the Avalanche, and the Islanders. Stellar company to be in?

      With the return of our forwards, our scoring chances for will come back up to around a low 9 figure I expect. However the rolling average of chances against has been trending up as well. So once again, we’re going to rely on Hank and Raanta to stand on their heads against high quality scoring chances.

      1. Injuries to three top offensive forwards hinders any team, but the Rangers have held their own. Before the injuries, they beat a number of top teams including the Penguins ,the Sharks, the Blackhawks, the Blues, the Capitals, and the Lightning, quite convincingly. It is the quality, not so much the quantity of the scoring chances that really counts. They still have the third best record in the league, despite the time it took to gel as a team and the injury factor. The goal tending hasn’t been that consistantly that spectacular, especially Lundqvist.
        Every top seeded team in the NHL needs exceptional goal tending to excel. A team doesn’t go far without solid goal tending in this league, so that’s a given.

        1. We beat Pitt convincingly? What games were you watching? That 5-2 win we had? The Shark contest we tried to give to them, where they utterly dominated us in the 3rd period, please tell me you’re not looking at the score with 2 empty net goals as an indicator of how they played.

          We can look at the standings, yea and cheer and say we’re great we’re a contender. Or we can look at the indicators of how the team is playing and realize you just barely beat Arizona, and in fact LOST the 5×5 battle to them. Who knows, the Coyotes stay out of the box this might be a whole other discussion. Offensively challenged teams like the Devils, Coyotes, Hurricanes, Buffalo, Wpg, Ottawa are hemming the Rangers in their own zone. Better teams are doing it and exploiting it into goals that the other teams can’t.

          I welcome you to raise your expectations for this team. I welcome you to think they are better than they actually are. But the injuries to three forwards, who’ve they’ve managed to still score enough, are not the ill that the team has. It is in their own zone. The team is spending more and more time in their end of the ice against inferior competition AND superior competition and trending towards more time in our end. Does any of this sound vaguely familiar? Like that ancient history that is the 2015-2016 season?

          1. John,
            I do agree with some of your observations. I think this teams lacks grit and another solid two 2 way defenseman that is physical. This team may decline the second half of the year, but maybe not. I also think the importance of some of these fancy stats that some look to, are somewhat exaggerated when there are other factors that need to be taken into consideration.
            “Just beating Arizona and Colorado?” 6-2 and 6-3. Out scored them 12-5, is not just beating them. The final score is really what matters.
            In the beginning of the year when healthy, they outplayed a number of top teams with their speed. When they get back their injured players, it changes the whole overall complexion of the team. They definitely could use some help on defense as I implied, but I believe when they return to being the same unit as they were earlier this year: will they win the cup?, I seriously doubt it, but with a few tweaks here and there, they may be a serious contender and anything is possible. In the off season, many fans were bitching and moaning that this team won’t make the playoffs this year. So far, somewhat surprising, a very good fairly young team, but not a proven elite, sad to say.

      2. WTF is xSCF and how is it calculated? Is it based on shot location or Corsi?

        The fact that Washington and Pittsburgh are below us makes me highly skeptical of this stat as a performance metric

          1. If you look, I placed in () Scoring Chances For/Against. “x” in all advanced metrics stands for expected, or average. In Scoring chances it’s average.

            From Statsportconsulting:
            What are scoring chances, and why are they useful?
            A scoring chance is a shot-attempt that has a high probability
            of resulting in a goal
            SCF% focuses on the most important events we observe {
            those with P(ShotAttempt = Goal) above some threshold

            Pit’s numbers have gone down in the month of December. Season wide they have xSCA60 of 9.05 and an xGA60 of 2.55. Both their and Washington’s rolling average indicate they are trending on the downside (less scoring chances against) of their high number, while ours are trending up (as in giving up MORE scoring chances against).

          2. To the point. Does anyone think Rangers as currently constructed can beat Pittsburgh, Columbus, or Montreal in a 7 game series? The best case scenario for improving the D is picking up an RD rental at the trade deadline and surrendering either an asset, or prospect, or pick. Does it take us over the top? Or maybe it is better to skip the playoffs and potentially get a decent first round pick in the next draft than exit in the first round this year again?

          3. You’re misusing the “x”. x as in xGF% implies there is a statistical model behind the metric. Therefore saying xSCF implies you are not just counting the SC for, but estimating the number of SC for there should be based on other aspects of the team’s play. If you are just reporting an average, drop the “x”. SCF60 is already an average.

  4. Girardi; 35 games – 4 assists and Staal; 39 games; 4 assists
    Clendening; 9 games – 3 assists
    How in holy heck is this kid not playing every 3rd or 4th game for G? Didn’t we see this movie last year?? Don’t we know how it ends???
    Not saying Clendening is a star but a capable player with the offensive skills that seem to align with AV’s approach of puck movement along with very capable of playing on 2nd PP.

    1. Now that Tanner Glass isn’t around, we need to complain about the usage of the 7th defender on a team with the third most points in the league. We are, without a doubt, strange.

      BTW, wait until AV eases Buch back into the lineup.

      1. Al – both of the 2 Dmen are top 4 on this squad.
        Guess you didn’t see the movie last year. Quick recap; strong start, meh finish. Spoiler Alert – they lost in first round…

    2. This is the exact same complaint we heard last year re: DMAC, you know where older D were going to be rested so the 7th guy could get more playing time. But it’s not the way AV operates. I don’t know if he’s been doing it, but Boucher talks about playing 7 D in a game and rotating the 7th in to give Dmen a rest, since they play a lot of hockey. He then says he would rotate the I & 2 C to the fourth line, so those guys get to play with better centres, and his top centres get extra playing time.

  5. Why are u guys so in love with Clendening? Why do u think he has bounced from one team to another? While he is somewhat a force on offense (powerplay), he is a liability in the defensive zone. He is constantly pushed off the puck in the defensive zone. Because he is pushed around so frequently, he cannot make the breakout passes that are necessary or handle the opposition in front of the net. Wish u would spend some some time with tape rather than antalytics. Who he plays with can mask his stats. I will take Klein over Clendening any nite!

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