Quality over quantity, and why the Rangers are winning

The Rangers are winning. It was entirely unexpected, but it’s been fun. When looking at why the Rangers are winning, the quick and obvious answer is Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist has shown he’s still an elite goaltender, carrying the Rangers through some of the early struggles of adjusting to a new system.

At 23 games into the season, it’s not just Lundqvist anymore. The system is starting to take hold, and the Rangers are showing that they can actually limit the number of chances against. All shot attempts against, both quantity and quality, are coming down. However while the numbers against are coming down, they are still pretty high, and the Rangers are struggling to generate consistent and sustained offensive pressure.

From Sean Tierney, the Rangers –in terms of quantity– should be a bottom feeder team. They still allow a good amount of attempts against, and don’t generate many attempts for. Yet they keep winning. Why?

Well for starters, we have much better metrics than raw Corsi. It’s a very useful tool still, but when it comes to analyzing a team’s performance, there are better indicators out there. Even so, when we see quantity that low, we tend to look at “puck luck” (PDO) to see what’s going on.

Here is basically where the Rangers usually are in PDO. They have an elite goaltender, so they will always be above the middle horizontal axis. Early in the season, the Rangers couldn’t buy a goal –that’s when Lundqvist was stealing games– but now the goals are starting to come (see: Chytil, Filip). They are starting to convert, thus have a higher SH%. PDO can account for luck, but there is a specific skill set here, especially at the goaltending level.

So the high PDO may account for the most recent run of wins. And to be frank, it likely does account for a good amount of it. However again, there’s more to the story.

Under Alain Vigneault, the Rangers were all about quality scoring chances. They were generating a ton of them, but were allowing what felt like double against. It was frustrating to watch, and it probably let to a few heart palpitations. This year, though, is a little different.

Expected goals (xG) is a great indicator of how a team is performing. To read the above, let’s keep it simple. Blue is good. Red is bad. The Rangers are blue. They are “expected to score more goals than they allow.” This number takes into account the quality of shots taken on the ice, both for and against, in addition to quantity (remember: CF is quantity only). The Rangers here are one of the better teams.

Here we see expectations against results, and voila! The Rangers are in the “good” section of the graph. Now it is early, and there are a few teams there that shouldn’t be there –and you can make an argument that the Blueshirts shouldn’t be there– but regardless, that’s where they are today. And that is a major reason why they are winning.

We all knew the Rangers could generate quality chances. There is a ton of skill in the lineup. The biggest change is that they do not allow many quality chances against. They aren’t perfect, but the number of slot chances and Royal Road chances against has come down significantly.

Tierney puts all this together in a nice little chart called “K ratings” that combines all aspects of what was discussed above into one visual representation. The only problem with K ratings is that it is sourced by, which has been shut down (Manny appears to have been hired by a team).

The above is the most recent representation of K ratings, and it might be the last one we see for a while. Blue is good, and contributing to wins. Red is bad, and why a team might lose. As expected, the Rangers are being driven by quality attempts, both for and against. Their raw quantities might hold them back, but quality is helping them win.

There will forever be a discussion about the Rangers and their lack of shot attempts in the offensive zone. It’s unavoidable, and it is a big flaw of the team. However the design of the defensive system is to limit the quality chances against, which makes Lundqvist’s job easier. Limit those chances, and this group of forwards can and will score.

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  • Team is beginning to gel. A more cohesive defensive system with an elite goaltender makes any team have a shot if they can score 3 a game. Early on, Quinn was moving guys all around, making it tough to get in a rhythm, but now he is using 3 consistent lines, making for some semblance of normalcy. As soon as we get the Andersson line more than 10 minutes a game, all our lines will play better, making for an even more entertaining hockey club.

  • I think the charts are a reflection of the coach, showing responsible back checking by the forwards and Quinn’s insistence that they have to be hard on the puck at all times, and if you don’t buy in you’re going to sit. Shots against may be up, but apparently, opposing teams are struggling to find quality shots. This is one reason they are fun to watch this year.

  • The biggest difference this season that can be measured by metrics is the Quality of the Shots we have given up. Far less High Danger Chances, Fewer rebound attempts, and a better DZone Zone Coverage philosophy than the M2M style played under AV. The league adapted quickly…got faster and smarter and the M2M, and without fast Dmen we had no chance.
    Add this to the fact that the relentless pressure that starts on the forecheck (this has been the most pleasant thing to watch out of this team IMO), thru the neutral zone and at the point of puck possession in our Dzone.

    These last 2 games have been the most complete we have seen, watching this continue to grow with the youth we already have is going to be a fun ride.

  • It’s fun to watch a team that can. and will, attack everywhere on the ice. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen a team that can just pin the other team in their d-zone for a full shift (remember Dubie, Cally, and Step?) or keep an attacking team to the outside for a full shift defensively (a young Girardi and Staal with the three I mentioned previously), on a regular basis, but that’s what we’re starting to get out of this team. Couple that with excellent goal tending, and, voila!, winning hockey. I seriously doubt that we’re ready to defeat the top teams in the league consistently, but I think we’ll see a lot on interesting games against them.

  • Great stuff David, thank you.

    Reduce high danger chances, as Rec said above, and look what happens.

    AV’s system only works with superior forwards and an elite goalie (Vancouver) or a pretty solid group from top to bottom (2014 Rangers). Anything other than this, and yo have crap.

    Quinn is in between Torts and AV. Not totally defensive but emphasis on defense. Allow shots but from the outside where the Ranger goalie can make the saves. Simple.

    The Rangers are not going to possess the puck but you notice how they dominate when they are forechecking. That’s their key on offense.

    • What? You mean the 2015 team? That was a much better NYR team. It’s record proved that. Road warrior’s and the best depth in the league ( yes even Glass was apart of that ). NYR 2015 > 2014. They had a tougher playoffs to get through. That was good old fashion AV hockey at it’s best.

      • It’s record? How many hockey seasons do you have to watch to realize that the regular season record is BS?

        How many President’s Trophy winners have won the Cup? Not many.

  • An eye test take on these numbers… We heard quality over quantity with AV, so what’s the difference?

    #1 – quality through hard work and smart choices vs. high risk/high reward AV hockey. This translates to fewer blue line turnovers, odd man rushes against, and risky cross ice passes.

    #2 – We still get pinned down from time to time, but less than last year. It seems that we also have fewer icings (does anyone keep detailed icing stats?) Icings have become much more dangerous since recent rule changes, and exhausted players give up quality chances.

    #3 – This is not a tik-tac-toe passing team any more. Finally, we are shooting the puck more. Valley has been great with his MSG analysis, and he pointed out how Chytl, in the past two games, turned low quality chances into high quality chances, in both cases with a well timed shot.

    # 4 – Defensive system changes have help reduce egregious missed coverages (most games). This dead horse has been beaten enough.

    Hope it keeps up.

  • I think the Vegas team showed how a positive attitude and strong effort, combined with a system that your players can play and buy into, actually can lead to success. Now whether these players can sustain this level of effort all season long, is something to be analyzed. This is why, if we are still in the thick of it come February, we should buy/trade for significant young talent, and trade away older players to keep the cycle of youth coming.

  • This is a waste of time I know as this group is not interested in facts which do not gibe with its sense of reality. Lundqvist has been quite good so far, but he has not been elite for a very long time. Nowadays, he is streaky and we can only hope that he turns in a good to very good season and not simply one that is average plus. As for his carrying the Rangers, well, the Rangers are 8-9 in games he has started and 4-1 in games started by Georgiev. [In case I need to say it, that does not indicate Georgiev is the better tender, only notes that the Rangers have gotten 1/3 of their wins without any help from Hank at all.]

    Point 2: PDO is not luck; it is more important than Corsi. Unfortunately, it is damn hard to assess in a meaningful way. A single games generates ten times as much Corsi data as PDO data and so, even 22 games into the season, it is easy to dismiss PDO numbers as small sample size. However, we actually always have more than just 22 games worth of numbers. If as I suspect, Marc Staal has been a good PDO player year after year after year, that is meaningful information. Unfortunately, datawise, the Rangers are playing a new system and so much of the PDO success of AV’s teams may not carry over and so we know less.

    Finally, last year I predicted the Rangers would miss the playoffs but thought they had a real shot at the Cup if Chityl could win the Hart Trophy. This year, I felt the same way – though with much less optimism. However, in the last two weeks, that has started to look far less absurd.

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