Don’t fret about the first game

kevin shattenkirk

Friends, it’s finally that time of year again. Regular season hockey is upon us, and boy does it feel good. Except depending on your persuasion, you may not agree with that because the Rangers did in fact drop their home opener against one of the worst teams in the league, the Colorado Avalanche. What I’m here to tell you is this: worry not, because it’s only one game, and even if that still does matter to you, there’s no reason to worry. Allow me to explain.

First, it’s important for me to say up front that I don’t believe you can really tell much about a team after the first game, and maybe even the first 5-10. It’s an 82 game season plus playoffs; there’s plenty more hockey to be played just as a matter of numbers. Going beyond that, guys are rusty, many members of the team have never played with one another before, and even though we did get to see some guys display their skills in the preseason, it takes some time to click. You might say that the New York Rangers are professionals and these things shouldn’t be issues for them but let’s be honest, they’re human. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and truly exciting hockey certainly won’t be either.

It’s also worth noting that although last year the Rangers triumphed over the Islanders in their home opener, the year before they lost to a legitimately terrible Leafs team (still tanking for Matthews at that point), and the year they went to the Stanley Cup Final they lost the first several of their games by wide margins on the road (I still have flashbacks of Radim Vrbata totally owning in game 2 or 3 on the road in Arizona). All of this is to say that while the Rangers have won exactly 0% of their games so far, it’s not going to stay that way, so why worry?

But let’s say the first game does matter to you. Let’s say you either want or need to draw some kind of conclusions based on exactly 60 minutes of hockey. If that’s the case then boy do I have some good news for you: the Rangers actually played a pretty good game on Thursday night, both in terms of team play and individual performances.

Let’s start with the big one: Kevin Shattenkirk looked good. Like, really good. Maybe that’s not super apparent if you’re focused on the fact that he was a minus 3 (but please also consider that plus/minus is maybe not the best stat for evaluating pretty much anyone) but in terms of the small stuff it was as advertised. In the first period alone he made some slick defensive plays, deftly redirecting the puck out of the defensive zone and into more profitable areas of the ice with seemingly little effort. Throughout the game he was making smart passes, often putting himself in a position where he had options and making smart choices on how and when to make a play. He knew when to push the pace, he knew when to back off, and he showed signs of chemistry with his new defensive partner, Ryan McDonagh.

There were other bright spots as well, up and down the lineup. Pavel Buchnevich was commanding in the offensive zone, particularly on the power play, where he dictated the ebb and flow of the play with his on and off the puck movements. When opponents are repositioning themselves defensively in anticipation of what you’re going to do, and when teammates are finding themselves in scoring positions as a result of your playmaking, you’re having a positive impact on the ice. It’s good to see from a guy who needs to have a big year and who showed great potential last go around in an unfortunately truncated rookie season for him.

David Desharnais and Jimmy Vesey looked quite good defensively as well, making responsible plays in their own end and giving the d-men the kind of puck support they needed to prevent scoring chances and get the puck out of the zone as quickly as possible. Although not every play was fruitful, particularly in the generally choppy and disjointed second period, for the most part the Rangers depth stepped up on Thursday night.

Statistically the game was a success as well: the Rangers had 39 shots on goal, a 61.06% share of all shot attempts throughout the evening and an xG of 4.43 to Colorado’s 3.64 (stats via For those unfamiliar with xG it’s a metric designed to represent how likely a shot is to go into the net, based on previous shots from similar areas, shot type, and various other factors. Think Steve Valiquette’s video approach where he rates a shot’s likelihood as 1 in 3 if it’s a shot off a slot line pass and what have you, except it’s tracked and computed automatically instead of by Vally’s small army of game trackers (which is awesome in its own right, much love to Valiquette). Most coaches have their own way of analyzing whether or not their team got the right looks regardless of end result, and whatever AV’s is, by both the most simple and advanced metrics we have available, the Rangers should have won that game. They were simply unlucky.

So while you might be inclined to believe that Rangers bloggers are all unsparingly negative and use stats to bludgeon guys to death over their defensive deficiencies know this: the numbers paint a much prettier picture than the one we saw on the scoreboard as the clock wound down on Thursday. Beyond that, for the “watch the games” crowd, if you were watching the game carefully, picking out guys’ fundamentals and making sense of what the Rangers were trying to, you’d realize that when this team clicks it’s going to make some noise in the East, despite premature reports of the Rangers’ demise. Besides all of that, it’s only the first game. Don’t fret.

Show More
  • If the rangers can go from being one of the worst possession teams in the league to at least middle of the pack, consider that part of the story a success

  • There is a good article on Why the Rangers should have traded Henrik Lundqvist instead of Cam Talbot on ESPN.
    We are all aware that Hank is probably the weak link at this point. There are 2 elephants in the room and Hank is 1.

    • I brought that up when Henk contract was coming up. Was ridiculed by this board. Too bad as a cap friendly Cam could of allowed the Rangers to fill other holes in their roster.

      • Bloomer, you were right back then and if I remember correctly there were quite a few of us who did not want to give hank the big contract and talked about keeping talbot instead.
        I am guessing you were against giving girardi and stall big contracts too….
        I also do not want to resign mcdonagh unless its a 2 year no raise contract. We need to get away from sathers short sighted overpaying ways in this cap league…..
        Save Every dime…. we can and fantasize about signing mcdavid in a few years………

        • Rich-

          Sorry, but as indicated below, your timeline and recollection here is all wrong. At the time when Hank was up for his deal, Talbot was largely an unknown.

          It all sounds wonderful to not sign anyone and have all this money available—to sign WHO exactly? What you are suggesting was never realistic. All that would happen is that we would be in a state of perpetual rebuild and playing in front of a half empty MSG.

    • What? You’re willing to believe something you read in the mainstream media? I thought we were all evil. 🙂

      I saw that column. I have no idea who that guy is but he’s hardly one of the more well renowned hockey writers. In fact, he’s like five years out of college. Do you think that veteran columnists who actually have followed the game for years like McKenzie, Custance, Friedman, etc would similarly concur? I doubt it. That’s what happens when you are ESPN and you fire so many talented people who actually have a clue, and hire inexperienced people that have no idea what they are talking about.

      BTW, did you see the reaction of the readers? They mostly skewered the guy, and properly so. Writing like that isn’t going to likely result in a future in hockey journalism, that’s for sure.

      His article is deeply flawed (as is your point) and poorly thought out. Let’s go back to where we were in the 2013-14 season when Hank was signed to his huge deal. Hank was (and remains) the Rangers ONE true star. Who else did the Rangers have at the time to spend that money on? It’s not like we were debating whether to spend money on a Crosby or Kane for example. Better yet, who was out there in free agency that the Rangers could have gotten that wouldn’t have been equally scrutinized and criticized?

      More importantly, at the time of that deal, what was Cam Talbot? Pretty much an unremarkable backup with no real projectable upside. So Hank gets his deal, and does what he normally does…puts a flawed and unremarkable Rangers team on his back, and this time carries them all the way to the SCF, where if they had won, he almost certainly would have been named the Conn Smythe Winner. No sane individual would have questioned the investment at that time.

      So we move to 2014-15. Hank was sensational again. But then he got hurt and was out for weeks with the neck injury. That was Talbot’s moment. And he was TERRIFIC, no question. But when Hank came back, he was back to his brilliant self and took the Rangers to the brink of another SCF (stopped only because the defense was wrecked by injuries and Zuc suffered his nearly life-threatening injury).

      So that brings us to the off-season in 2015. The Rangers had just come off of arguably two of their best back to back seasons ever. The conditions were as follows:

      1) Hank was still very much at the top of his game.
      2) Talbot was coming off an eye opening stretch, but it was still just a portion of a season.
      3) There were no FAs (that I recall) that the Rangers could have spent money on.
      4) The rest of the team did not (and still does not) possess star power worth investing big bucks in
      5) The Rangers had aspirations for more playoff success in the here and now

      What GM would decide, given these factors, that the franchise goalie should be dealt when he was still at the top of his game? I would say NO ONE.

      But then, let’s look at what REALLY makes the article the piece of garbage that it is—

      1) There was virtually NO market for Talbot. The Rangers got a meager return. Few if any GMs saw future greatness in the guy.
      2) And this is the big one…..Hank had just signed a contract with an NMC. Even the writer acknowledged this. There was no chance, NONE, ZERO, NADA, that Hank would EVER have agreed to be dealt once that deal was consummated.
      3) And even if by some miracle he was willing to be traded, how many teams would have been willing to take on that contract? That would have severely limited the teams the Rangers could have dealt with, and likely diminished the return. So even without the NMC, he was likely untradeable.
      4) In the post lockout era, has there EVER been a player that signed a deal for that amount of money and term AND with an NMC to boot, and then got dealt within 18 months of signing the deal???? I’m pretty sure the answer would be no.

      Now, IF the timing had been different, lets say Hank’s contract had come up two seasons later, would that have been a reasonable consideration to cut ties with Hank and take a chance on Talbot? Perhaps. But I will point out again, Talbot had a great year really ONCE—last year. Lots of goalies have had singular great seasons. Will he sustain it? To be determined. What we do know is that Hank has put together a slam dunk HOF career. Almost certainly, Talbot will not have that kind of future.

      So this article was absurd. It’s fantasyland. There was no realistic way possible to have traded Hank at that time. It would not have happened. Again, very poorly thought out by the writer, who just seemed to be into yanking the chains of Rangers fans and not making a serious point.

      • 3E
        You make some good points about Hank and it being impossible to trade him with his NMC….AFTER he was signed….
        However, I am of the belief/philosophy ”’trade them a year earlier rather than a year too late”’
        Sather made many financial/roster blunders, his worst were signing 30 plus year old players-Hank, Girardi, Stall to big money long term contracts. Major Mistakes!!!!!!!!!!!!
        There were many of us who saw that Hank was on the downside, even before the LA Kings finals!
        Again, Like Sievequist and others has been touting for years Hank has been on the downside even before he signed the new deal!!!!
        Had we not resigned him talbot would be our goalie…..
        I was dead set against resigninga girardi and replacing him with strallman which was another no-brainer……
        NOW the question becomes …What about McDonagh when his contract is up? McDonagh has been our best D man since leetch but unless he signs a 2 year -no raise deal…..move on…..
        Interesting that almost every year we have a talbot, a raanta etc outperforming Hank …yet many here thinks its blasphemous to talk trading him…..although now It is impossible….

        • It’s not blasphemous Rich…It’s simply absurd and had ZERO chance of happening. Given where the Rangers were in their evolution at the time, there was NO WAY this happens.

          For accuracy sake, Staal and Girardi were both under 30 when they signed their deals. Hank was 31 but was one of the ELITE players in the game. That’s the way FA works, When stars hit FA, they get paid mega-bucks. If he had left the Rangers, he would have made even more. Same for Girardi, who was considered one of the prizes of that FA class if he had not signed.

          It seems to me your goal in life is to become GM of the Rangers, trade away anyone who is about to earn a big contract, never engage in free agency, overrate good but not great players and call them elite, put a guy on defense who isnt an NHL player simply because he has a fancy Slapshot-esque nickname, and put a team out there that has no chance to ever compete and be a perennial lottery team. Yeah, I’m sure fans and advertisers will be happy to pay premium prices for that. Half empty MSG. Non-existent TV ratings. But hey, I saved money by not spending on FAs and switching to Geico! Being a GM…so easy even a caveman can do it! 🙂

          My advice to you my friend is to consider keeping your day job. Because the strategy you are advocating would get you fired in short order.

          • Due to the NMC, the trade angle, as you point out Eddie, was never really a viable option, especially at that time coming directly after Hank propelled us to two consecutive ECF visits.

            The only way for the keep Talbot narrative to work is had we never re-signed Hank to begin with. But that also doesn’t work because at the time of the contract, Talbot was a grizzled AHL vet at best, a nobody at worst.

            No way any GM makes that gamble.

          • 3E
            Lets see …..its been how many decades since we won a cup?????
            How long was sather here , even before the cap, signing top free agaents every year and what do we have to show for it???/
            The definition of Insanity —do the same thing over and over and expect a different result!!!!!!
            Thats what has been done here for too long…..time to take a different approach…..look at the Bill Belichek and the New England Patriots…..except for Brady…. players come and go every year…..NEVER overpays anyone !!!!! and how many superbowls have they won???????
            Unless we change how we do business we will be having the same discussion 5 years from now!!!!!

          • You are weaving a convoluted mess of information and misinformation to attempt to make your point.

            I don’t know what Sather’s obvious missteps in the pre-cap era have to do with anything going on in the here and now. The fact that the Rangers haven’t won in 23 years is also irrelevant. The system today is different. The GM is different. The rules of the league are different. The kinds of players the league values are different. What in the world is your point here?

            Obviously, Sather made a myriad of bad decisions and oversaw horrible drafts during a time when we were bad. Just inexcusable and a referendum on the first portion of his reign as GM, no question. But that’s an irrelevant point. That’s not the way the game’s economics work today, so why even bring that up?

            Similarly, to compare what Belichick has done in football to what the Rangers or any other NHL team should do is thoroughly laughable. Football is a totally different system with a different pace of attrition. Total nonsense.

            You have to use models of success in the NHL to emulate, not the NFL. You will find virtually EVERY SC Champion was built using almost exactly the same components—

            1) astute drafting (including making sure that when you have an off year and you get a lottery pick, you nail it with a star like Tarasenko as opposed to a bust like your favorite player McIlrath)

            2) trades

            3) FA signings, which include some likely over priced veteran guys who bring a winning pedigree.

            4) determining which guys are the guys you want to commit to long term and realize, on the back end of those deals, those deals are usually NOT going to look pretty.

            The teams that do the best job of this are the ones that have the best chance to win. But there isnt ONE SC Champion, certainly not one in the modern era of the sport, that would build a team WITHOUT diving into FA and WITHOUT committing long term to the players you feel can help you win.

            Every player eventually wants to get paid. No team can just make some bogus blanket statement that says “we, as an organization, will NOT commit to you once you are eligible to be a FA”. Do you think ANY player would be willing to play for an organization that functioned that way? Do you think any high end coach would ever come to an organzation that thought that way? No and No.

            Every single contending team has a mix of youth, some older players, players drafted, players acquired by trade, and players who have contracts that either are now or will soon be onerous. And most teams will take their best shot and fall short, and those onerous deals will look even worse. But there is no getting around it. That’s the way EVERY team is built and there are no guarantees.

            In the here and now, the Rangers are where they are because they drafted good players instead of great difference making players, other than Hank (which turned out to be the luckiest pick in league history one could argue). They failed to hit on any of their first round picks under Sather, and then once they became competitive and had an elite goalie, their only path to contention was to patch it together with trades and mid range picks and acquisitions. Overall, that part of the strategy has been largely succesful the past decade. We’ve gotten close, But with no elite talent, winning it all has been elusive.

            The Rangers made missteps pre-lockout, no doubt. Big ones. But since then, they have been among the best at drafting mid-range guys. Their FA decisions have been suspect, no doubt. Their trades have been a mixed bag. They need to improve in ALL these area, but sorry, you can’t run away and say we won’t participate in that essential part of team building simply because missteps were made. The path your suggesting has virtually ZERO chance of working and no team in the NHL (or any sport) that’s trying to win would operate that way.

            What has to change is, we need to do it better, not make radical alterations to the only game plan every single NHL team uses to build. That’s the way the league works my friend.

        • I like that thinking RichS ! Another left us as well , Raanta . Stupid no trade clauses!!!

          • Part of the game….every team gives them out to some of their best players. Cost of doing business. No team can have a policy of NEVER giving them out, Again, sounds nice in a fantasy land but not in the real world.

        • Staal getting hit by his brother and then was it a stick or a puck to the eye ? That hit pretty much finished him,I think he’s still in lala land.Keeping G and buying Staal out I think would have been the better move.Girardi is just beaten up from the Tortorella years.

  • Corsa stats are for losers….period. Hockey is played on the ice not on a spread sheet. The Rangers lost their season opener because they couldn’t capitalize on their chances but the AVs did. Next up Toronto then the Habs, these games will be a good test for the Rangers new defence and their aging goalie.

    • I somewhat agree with you Bloomer. I think Corsi and other hockey fancy stats are over used (and and as we have seen out here in the blogosphere with some folks, badly misinterpreted). There is so much more to evaluating players and teams than what the advanced stats show. I am very skeptical of a lot of these stats. For example, they show Girardi was the worst player in hockey, and Clendo and McIlrath among the better ones. Looks great on the stat sheet, but then reality comes. Girardi gets a big contract, Clendo gets a 7D deal (and was a healthy scratch btw in his opener) and McIlrath we’ve discussed ad nauseaum. That says to me that many out here are taking small snippets of info that may not actually tells us the true story of the player.

      Hockey advanced stats are fascinating. To ignore them would be silly. But I do not believe that advanced stats, especially for defensemen, are reliable enough barometers to accurately judge NHL talent.

      • Btw in all fairness. I advocated at the time that the Rangers should of moved Girardi at the trade deadline before inking him to a lucrative long term deal.

        • Well clearly, that turned out to not be a great contract. But, again, like I posted above, what was going on with the Rangers at the time? They were a solid team on the rise. Do you cut ties with Hank, Girardi, Callahan, Staal when you are on the brink of contention? After the prior year when you go all in for Rick Nash and trade away the beloved Dubinsky? How do you sell to Rangers fans that, after years of being god-awful, we tease you with some success for a few years and then get rid off our key assets of the time, and become a lottery team? That would NEVER have been acceptable.

          On top of that, Sather had just fired a quality coach in Torts because he believed his team was better than they had shown, and he wanted a different coach. How do you THEN sell off your assets after making that move and selling AV on the idea of coming to NY (a coach who desperately wants and needs a Cup on his resume), that less than a year after hiring him, you are going to go into full rebuild mode—a rebuild that may ultimately yield nothing more than the same good but not great group you traded away to begin with?

          I will also point out that if you had looked at the articles of the time, Girardi was considered the top defenseman available in FA going into the Summer of 2014. It was reported he would have made more on the open market and teams were disappointed he wasn’t available anymore.

          I think, given what was known at the time, signing Girardi was understandable. But I would say once Girardi was signed, it was a mistake to sign Staal, who had had a myriad of serious injuries. That was the more egregious mistakes IMO. Every team has albatross contracts. There’s no getting around it.

          So if you had been GM, what would you have done differently that would have been realistic to do?

          • I call it as I see it Mr. B. Torts is obviously a quality coach. No argument there. He’s also a bit nuts and tends to wear out his welcome quicker than most, and his time in NY needed to come to an end.

            I find it interesting that both AV and Torts were approaching the summer of the final year of their respective contracts last year. On the one hand, Gorton signs AV to a mammoth raise and extension well before he would become a lame duck. Columbus, despite Torts’ amazing winning streak, opts not to do the same and waits until the summer to sign him—to only a one year extension?! Kind of speaks volumes about how Gorton feels about his coach vs how CBJ management feels about theirs, don’t you think?

            Seems to me, they are keeping their fingers crossed that Torts doesnt implode and lose the room, but aren’t willing to commit the term since his track record suggests the implosion will happen sooner rather than later.

            CBJ has a real good team though. They will be tough—regardless of who is behind their bench.

    • I think that Corsi shows trends, but not the be all and end all that they are made out to be. In my opinion there are two big questions that are yet to be answered.Has Lunqvist lost his edge(Brodeur played well up until his late 30,s) and who will be that finisher that we sorely missed on opening night? How many shots into V’s chest? Not one to the high stick or high glove. Don’t have that kind of shooter since MSL! D looks much improved except for that cross ice one timer on the PK.

    • Another Spot On comment Bloomer……
      .the only two stats I think have some use are ….even strength goals and plus -minus……
      Agree the Eye Test is usually the best analysis of the play…..

  • I agree with virtually everything in the original post with the glaring exception of this line:

    They were simply unlucky

    I’m not into the analytics. I just want to watch hockey not do advanced math. I got an A in both semesters of calculus when I was in college – no truth to the rumor that it was only a year after Newton (or that other guy) invented it – so I’m not a math phobe or anything like that. I understand probability and basic statistical theory. I think the analytics have value – up to a point. But even in baseball, which I have a greater knowledge of and the statistics are a lot more straight forward, I think there’s some real over-interpretations made by advanced stats-oriented analysts (like in defensive stats). And I also see a disturbing tendency to ascribe a certainty to the usefulness and accuracy of the models that analysts develop that is not actually merited – which calls to mind the adage – “all models are wrong, but some may be useful”. But I digress.

    One of my biggest pet peeves with stats-oriented analysts is to ascribe to “luck” anything that their models can’t measure or predict. There’s no question that luck figures into life and sports. But I think its foolish to think that just because you have a model that says based on this combination of statistical measures (all of which are, in truth, incomplete and have varying degrees of inherent error) I would have expected a result other than what I got, therefore, luck must be the explanation. Instead, you should acknowledge that your models may be imperfect and that the result may be due to non-random factors (unlike luck) that you cannot or did not measure. I once had to argue, on a baseball blog, that it was highly unlikely that a guy (I think it was Russell Martin) could be unlucky for > 900 at bats over two seasons.

    Anyway, the simplest explanation for Thursday night is that the Rangers, despite compiling some impressive statistical measures, did not play well enough to win. Or put more simply, if you fuck up enough, against even a poor opponent, you will likely lose. Ascribing Game 1’s result to luck is like saying it was due to evil spirits. And that’s not befitting an analytical approach.

    • So this is actually a pretty thoughtful comment, and I appreciate your candor and clarity. What I mean to say by “they were simply unlucky” is that they DID play well enough to win, they just didn’t. It’s entirely possible to do that, it’s just (relatively) improbable, although obviously not entirely so. What’s the likelihood of a team only compiling two goals despite have an xG total of 4.something? That’s above my pay grade, but it’s apparently not so improbable that it can’t happen, because it did. In ascribing something to luck I’m not saying that the models that say the Rangers should have won are perfect, what I’m saying is that I trust them enough in terms of the tons of variables and massive amount of data they take into account in making their predictions, despite the inherent biases written into the code. Take that in contrast to your average eye tester, subject to various cognitive biases and inconsistencies despite all claims that they’re the most objective viewer hockey has ever seen (“I call it like I see it”). I guess the way I look at xG and stats of that nature is as a measure of how well a team played, and given the trust that I have in the models, taken in concert with my own admittedly flawed viewing of the game is that the Rangers did play well enough to win. You can feel free to disagree with that, but the notion that they didn’t play well enough to win is a matter of opinion not fact. Whether or not a team wins and whether or not a team played well enough to do so are often divergent things, so evident throughout the history of hockey as to be axiomatic. In short, I respectfully disagree with your conclusion, but again I appreciate the critical eye you took in your comment and your lack of personal attacks or braggadocio.

      • but the notion that they didn’t play well enough to win is a matter of opinion not fact.

        Yes, that’s absolutely true and I did not mean to imply that it wasn’t. I simply said it was a much simpler explanation and, despite being an opinion (as is your opinion that they did play well enough to win), it does have some factual support. I”m sure you would agree that there were defensive breakdowns in at least some (if not all) of the goals scored by COL and that the Rangers failure to capitalize on their possession advantage and impressive number of shots to score more than 2 goals was not entirely about luck.

        I’m not sure how one can isolate luck out of the statistical models or balance the good/bad luck each team had in a game. Maybe COL was lucky (and conversely, the Rangers unlucky) because Varlamov had a good night and Lundqvist didn’t. But was that “luck” or better preparation or something else we don’t know how to measure? How about shots hitting the post or nearly missing – did those balance out on both sides (I have no idea)?

        I didn’t mean to pick on you I’ve just read so many analyses of baseball and hockey that in my opinion make facile attributions to luck without admitting the limitations of the analytical models and data involved in the analysis.

        Anyway, let’s move on and hope for a better result (and some luck!) against TOR tonight.

      • Roadrider and Pat-

        These posts are two of the most brilliantly written and well thought out replies I’ve ever read out here. Compelling points on both sides of the argument I’d say. Thanks and congrats!

        I’m wired to think in terms that have me agree pretty much 100% with what RR wrote, so I am going with him here—simply because I am suspicious of some elements of fancy stats in all sports—especially defensive analyses lets say in baseball (which, like RR, I am far more versed in) and hockey. In baseball for example, there were stats that showed Jeter was the worst SS in baseball. And obviously, that was laughable. In hockey, I’m no expert on advanced stats, but I’ve seen studies that show that often teams with high Corsi or strong in other advanced measurements dont always translate into a superior performance on the ice.

        So, like RR, I am not yet sold on their validity, Pat. That being said, what you and those into it provide is another perspective which is fascinating and certainly needs to be evauated and considered.

        Fascinating reading. Well done gentlemen!

  • Back to top button