When Bad Luck is Actually Good
At 2-5-1, the Rangers sit dead last in the Metropolitan division and 29th overall in the league; a start that we should all be pleased with in this low expectation season. NYR ranks 26th overall in PDO with a figure of 974 (as of 10/22), driven mainly by the 4th lowest 5v5 adjusted shooting percentage of 5.62. For context and a reminder about small sample sizes as we inch towards games 20 to 25, there are currently 9 teams shooting below 7 percent adjusted at 5v5. The total number of teams that shot under 7 percent adjusted in 2017-18 was two: Buffalo and Montreal. Could the Rangers use a few more finishers up front? Of course, and while a few of the forwards might begin to find twine (*cough* Chytil), the lack of finishing has allowed NYR to miss on some standings points that they otherwise may have obtained.
While the presentation of the above chart may not go all year-long, I think it will be a good context reminder of what could end up being the low point of NYR team play in the last few seasons. At this point, there are three takeaways. The depth of the offense, despite the game-day lineup debates, is still showing in 2018-19, as NYR continues to generate shots and chances. Unfortunately, the same story is also holding over for the defense, with shot attempt rates (CA/60) only being worse out in Anaheim. While the defensive struggles are absolutely personnel driven, I also would love to see Lindy Ruff fade out of favor eventually in terms of influence.
Finally, the team 5v5 save percentage is influenced heavily by the 8-goal loss to Carolina and the 4-goal loss to Calgary. Lundqvist has mostly continued his great start to the year, posting a 2.74 Goals Saved Above Average in his 7 games played (all situations). If he manages to keep this pace, he would likely be en-route to a 23-plus GSAA season (based on 60 GP), which would be his second best in his NHL career (28.57 in his Vezina winning 2011-12 season is his peak).
As an aside, here’s the Corsi (shot attempt) and Expected goal tracks for NYR this season. The big thing here is that as of today, NYR’s xGF% ranks 11th in the league at 51.63, led firmly by the offense (xGF/60 of 2.8, 3rd in the league). As shown by the YOY chart, the offense will likely come down unless the forwards keep clicking, while the defense (xGA/60) is in the same ballpark as last season.
Before I turn to highlighting some trending players, I want to just provide my two cents on the daily lineup lottery (and subsequent twitter debates) that appears to be going on given the state of the Rangers roster build. Does anyone remember the scene from Moneyball when Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour-Hoffman are discussing lineup choices in the manager’s office? “I’m saying it doesn’t matter what moves I make if you don’t play the team the way they’re designed to be played.”
Leaving out the working relationship of Jeff Gorton and David Quinn, which none of us know anything about, in the end I think all I want is for David Quinn to focus on dressing the 18 skaters who can score the most goals possible on any given night. Yes, there are highs and lows in seasons for players and there is a lot of personal and injury related facts that none of us are privy to. That said, when there are historically proven average or bad skaters playing over developing/younger players who may have more to offer, that is where I begin to draw the line. In a year where the team may actually not be as bad as some individuals thought and the expectations are the lowest in a while, to me it’s perfectly fine to find out what NYR has on hand before trying to make any improvements.
Let’s move to some names. Here’s the updated Game Control bar chart (sorted by TOI, left to right aka least to most):
Fredrik Claesson: Claesson drew in against the Sharks on 10/11 and played in three more games before sitting out against Calgary due to an upper body injury. In those games with an average of 16 minutes of ice time, he has been the Rangers best Defenseman in a strictly statistical sense, as he is the only one with a Corsi-For% above 50 and easily leads the xGF% race with a 70.23 figure (Corsica 5v5, adjusted). Per HockeyViz, his opponents TOI has been mostly middle-six based for Forwards, so while the numbers could be slightly inflated by his competition, in my mind Claesson should be a staple of the lineup until he shows any struggles.
Filip Chytil: To slide or not to slide, that is the question. While Chytil has been moved up and down the lineup with new line-mates every third game, overall his results are encouraging so far despite only one primary point. While he’s been on the ice for quality chances (60.85 xGF%), some volume shooting might help in getting of the schneid goal wise, as he’s dipped from 2.33 shots on goal per game in his 9 GP last season to 1.5 thus far. If he remains past 9 GP with NYR and burns an ELC year, hopefully he can continue to drive offense regardless of where he is in the lineup.
Vladislav Namestnikov: One of three forwards above 50% in Corsi-For and only one of two that can pair it with an xGF% over 50 (the other player will be below), the Rangers have simply been better when Namestnikov has been on the ice. The caveat here is that he has done this mostly against bottom-six TOI competition (he himself has the 4th lowest TOI of NYR forwards). With a logjam at center, Vlad may want to get used to lower TOI, which I’m perfectly fine with so long as he keeps tilting the ice towards the other team’s net.
Vinni Lettieri & Ryan Spooner: These two are mentioned together only because by the TOI these are your two lowest regular forwards so far. Letteri has been better purely by the numbers, but if we think about the eventual trade deadline, no doubt Ryan Spooner may fetch a higher return. Letteri skates hard and has been getting to the net, but in the end I’d rather have Spooner try to shoot over 10% again so that NYR can flip him down the road (which requires at least some ice time).
Jimmy Vesey: While Vesey has had a lot of high-profile scoring chances, in the end he has struggled at 5v5 play to win the shot and expected goal share. The breakaways and beneficial turnovers have led to him getting power play time, which quickly needs to end. He is posting many more shots on goal this year, but if you’re in your own zone more times than not, that tends to be negated.
Pavel Buchnevich: A full-on sophomore slump? One can only hope. I’m not going to try to defend Pavel’s play because I think many would agree it’s been uninspiring. The only item I will point to is that he’s been all over the lineup with the exception of the first two games. Is that an excuse? No, but for player who was treated in a bit of an inconsistent manner last season, some consistency for number 89 may do him some good.
Marc Staal & Neal Pionk: Speaking strictly by the numbers, Staal has been ok (48.3% Corsi, 52.6% xGF, positive relative in both) and Pionk has not (41.9% & 48.5%, negative relative). Pionk’s been a topic as of late as no one wants to quite call him a bust but for anyone looking at the numbers, they are not pretty (taken of course with the salt of the team and his common partners). Both are worthy of watching very closely in this first 20 game stretch.
Cody McLeod & Jesper Fast: McLeod hasn’t even seen 20 minutes of 5v5 time on ice yet, but I’d be a liar to say he’s been bad in his last two games (he’s the other player north of 50% in CF and xGF at 5v5). The reason I note this, though, is because usually McLeod is very bad, which is where I expect he’ll eventually be back down to. Jesper Fast is mentioned in the same section because he is also playing much better than he previously has, posting his best shot numbers of his career so far. With the second-highest 5v5 TOI among forwards, he should be due for a goal or two soon if he continues to play this effectively.