Analysis

A Results-based Lineup

The Rangers Coaching Staff Should be Leaning on the Good

With the NHL season just over a third of the way complete for most teams, analytically-inclined organizations will begin to draw from the sample size seen of most players to consider lineup and roster tweaks (or to stay the course) heading into the new year. At the very least, splits can be monitored to see which teams and players are improving or declining compared to the start of the season, which can also help contribute to decisions. The Rangers should be no different, however the challenge may be to find the positives in what is tracking to be a historically bad team with good goaltending and shooting.

Yes, for the most part this season the Rangers have been Sabres-tanking levels of bad (hence the red) when you separate how the team is consistently getting out shot and scoring-chanced compared to what actually goes in either net. That being said, the season has been split in two when you start to look at the game by game shot and chance results. For games 1-9 and 22-30 (8-8-2 record), the Rangers posted a 42.4% Corsi for (shot attempts) and a 40.7% Expected Goals for rate (quality of shots) at 5v5. To put it bluntly: this is very bad.

On the positive side, however, games 10 through 21 resulted in an uptick: NYR posted a 43.6% Corsi for and 46.4% Expected Goals for rating. While this is still not “actually good” results for an NHL team, the Rangers put up a 7-4-1 record during the stretch because of their very much above-average goaltending that has been the norm for longer than a decade. By just staying in games and more evenly trading shots and chances, the Rangers beat some legitimate contenders.

During games 10 through 21, there were two key lineup decisions that helped influence the better results. First, Quinn and Oliver put together a line of Kreider-Chytil-Buchnevich and consistently used them in the top six. Of all NYR forward lines so far this year with at least 50 TOI (5-6 GP) TOI together, this line is the only one to have consistently out shot and chanced their opponent. While they were broken up for game 20 (4-1 Loss at Ottawa), they were reunited in game 21 (6-5 win at Montreal), only to be abandoned since then.

Also during this stretch of 12 games, Skjei-DeAngelo were paired together and produced fine results compared to the rest of the defense (while playing top 4 or top pair minutes). Breaking even in shots and chances in this defensive scheme of Lindy Ruff is an accomplishment, and they did just that. Quinn and Ruff broke up the pair after the Ottawa loss, and we haven’t seen them back together since. The performance of the defensive group as a whole has simply not been good in the last ten games.

This is all to say that while the Rangers have been winning on the backs of their goaltenders and timely shooting (which is volatile by nature, as all shooters are streaky), NYR does have some options to consider if they were to influence the lines by shot and chance results. Here’s how it could look for the forwards:

Panarin-Zibanejad-Kakko (more on this below)
Kreider-Chytil-Buchnevich
Lemieux-Strome-Fast
Howden-McKegg-Nieves

While more TOI is needed to fully know, the results of Panarin-Zibanejad-Kakko are somewhat encouraging for two reasons. First, they’re playing top-line minutes and on Tuesday against the Kings they posted their best game yet (62% Corsi, 62% expected goals) against a team that is performing better than most think. Secondly, we know from results that the bottom six isn’t where Kakko will thrive, so putting him with legitimate top-line NHL talent for a bit could spark him.

For the first time all year, Kakko is breaking even in on-ice shot share and he’s seen a creep up in scoring chances and expected goals. If the line can turn more shots into chances, I’d be very excited to see the top six I laid out above get the heavy minutes. Also, of note, Strome dropping to the 3C could possibly help spark the bottom six offense a bit (which is non-existent). I put Fast on the RW because he is once again an effective two-way player, while Howden drops to the fourth line winger (seeing as he’ll never be sent down, no matter what he does (aka doesn’t) do). Ahh, yes, Smith is not in the forward lineup, so speaking of the defense…

Skjei-DeAngelo
Trouba-Fox
Lindgren-Smith

Two off-hand pairs?! Yes, because of one simple question: can the defense actually get any worse? I think we can all agree that Fox has proven he can play, so I wouldn’t even hesitate to try him on his off-hand with Trouba. Reuniting Skjei-DeAngelo is key, as they’ve proved they can deliver results. Dropping Smith back actually allows him to contribute as he isn’t any worse than Staal or Lindgren (and he can’t create offense for anything up front). In the end, the beauty of the above pair setup is that it allows the actual top-4 defenders on the NYR roster to be in the top four.

Look, most of this is an absolute pipe dream because it would require Quinn & co. to think outside of the box for more than half a second. Would the Rangers be “actually good” as a result of this? Probably not. Could the Rangers be incrementally better and maybe win more games than lose in the process with a young core? I’d bet on it with that top six and top four, yeah. The point here is not to try to magically believe this is a Stanley cup team, but rather to show the core that the organization meant this year to not be a complete joke when they went out and got Trouba and Panarin.

Oh, and if NYR is going to get top ten goaltending and shooting for another year, why not lean on certain lines and pairs that showed good results?

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  • I like that forward line up Rob.

    Then bring in Krav back to play the 3rd line and drop Fast to the 4th line, to make the line up even more better and talented.

  • That is a VERY soft top-6 that will get pushed around by anyone who wants to.

    They need to address the physical elements of the bottom-6 if they go this route. A team of 5th graders would have more grit with the way this is shaping up. Lineups like this work (kind of) in a regular season. This will not work at all in a playoff series. You can’t just have all soft, skilled players no matter how talented they are. They will lose everytime against a team with talent that is also heavy and aggressive.

    • The point of the article is that Quinn should play a results-based top 6. At no point is Rob arguing that they’ll go deep in the playoffs. Enough with the praise for grit/toughness; these types of players are increasingly irrelevant in today’s NHL and the Rangers have Kreider and Lemieux to agitate and carry physical play. It’d be nice for once to see a Ranger coach experiment with different ideas that play to the players’ strengths, instead of being locked into tactics that his roster doesn’t currently support.

      • Tough gritty players with skill to play in the top six will never go out of style in the NHL. If they do, I would probably stop watching.

      • Irrelevant? So when our guys like Kakko, Chytil, Buch, Zib plus others take unnecessary elbows and facials and violent gratuitous hits and there is no push back then you can expect those liberties all game long. And over the long haul it will have an effect. Maybe there is no place for that crap in the game but it definitely exists. And you can scratch Kreider’s name from your list of “agitators” as only Lemieux is relevant here… and he alone is not enough.

  • I think you have to do first value krieder Strome and Fast askeeping them or trade them I suggest make that a line till February and do your stats and rate them and next year there is no room for stahl and smith and you have to. Carry 3 goalies that leaves 1 player on the backups

  • Baseball has caved to analytics and it has made hitters alter their game because of the defensive shift. Would it be so bad if DQ and the Rangers actually used the data to try to improve? While in-game action and momentum is real, why not come out on the ice with “number-crunched” lines? Makes total sense.

  • The eye test of the pairing of Skjei – DeAngelo determined that they worked well together too. The present problem is that barring a radical shift in thinking like Rob proposes, the only ways to put that pairing together again are to use Smith as a defenseman and put Smith with Trouba and sit Staal most nights, or put Staal with Trouba or put Lindgren with Trouba and break him up with Fox.

    I would advocate putting Smith with Trouba and then Skjei with DeAngelo and Lindgren with Fox. Marc might play some but under this scenario but I think that Smith at this point is a better alternative.

  • Hi all,

    Rangers need to be tougher down the stretch so if the return is right would consider kreider being traded. He is too inconsistent he shows up when he wants to show up and play. Perhaps a trade of Kreider to a west coast team. Maybe the return is higher would be good to get a player like dustin brown, andrew shaw. etc. Someone besides Lemieux has to step up against POS like marchand/bergeron. Each line should have more grit and a player that can protect the rangers top players. Some examples of players below: These are just examples, not sure of the players that currently the rangers can get and afford at the moment. Also, perhaps a new player or 2 new players may just change the culture, attitude of the team.

    Dustin Penner, Dustin Brown. Andrew Shaw, Justin Williams, Chris Kunitz.

    Basically someone that has an edge and can score some goals. As much as I liked Kreider in the past he looks lost out there, disoriented, playing with no emotion. Also, as we all see the rangers can get up to 4 or 5 PP’s a game. Just saying 1/2 2/5 is still a better percentage that what the rangers currently have. A consistent team with grit and goal scoring can win a lot more games. Does anyone know how to fix the rangers PP? There are quite a few PP strategies to have (funnel the puck, overload, shooting, passing). To me the rangers have become to passive and too much perfect passing. That has to stop the focus should be quick puck moving, with a person in front to screen the goalie. I do wonder if Quinn is the right coach to try and fix these problems, I just feel like he isn’t. There is not a message he is getting across, no consistent play, at this pace rangers can end the season with about 70-80 points. Also, record wise could be 40-37, not a good record. Rangers goal this season should be playoffs, that way they can return, focus this summer on putting the final touches of a contender and then next season (end of the season) put together a cup contender.

    • Most of the players you listed are washed up. Dustin Penner is 37 and hasn’t played in the NHL in six seasons. Chris Kunitz is 39 and not in the NHL. Justin Williams is also currently inactive though rumored to be returning to Carolina. Dustin Brown sucks and is vastly overpaid, as is Andrew Shaw. Maybe the Rangers should stay away from a list of old bums.

  • I hope the Rangers make some moves. However, I am unclear about the waiver timeline. If we send Georgie (or better yet Hank) down to Hartford to see if Igor is really NHL material – does he have to pass waivers? Igor would have to be very good to rank higher than Georgie in my mind. Why no news on this front?

    Not sure why Rob thinks Smith is as good defensively as Lindgren…….I don’t see it. Leave Fox and Lindgren the hell alone.

    If we are not paying up for Kreids (fine by me) – can’t we bundle him with Smith (and his 20-21 salary of 4.3M) – before the deadline and get a winger who can score?????

    • JFTR, the Rangers cannot send Lundqvist down because of his NMC – and it is disrespectful in any case. However, the Rangers have a roster spot and cap room. They can carry three goal tenders if they so choose. Hence, from a practical perspective, bringing Shesty up for a few games is relatively easy. The only real issue here is that I means less playing time for the two goalies already here who no doubt would like more action rather than less.

      • We’ve invested big $$$ into Igor. 3.75 per for two years. He becomes an RFA in ’21. That isn’t a lot of time left. I say bring up Igor and play him and Georgie. With regard to Henrik – he gets his respect in his bank account every month. This is a business.

    • Gorton said a couple of days ago that Georgiev isn’t going to Hartford. if they want to call up Shesty, they’ll call him and carry three goalies for a bit. Georgiev signed his ELC at age 21, so he will be waiver exempt until he plays 60 NHL games. hope that helps!

  • Sorry I meant not those players but players like them their same caliber. Not signing them but acquiring players like them, preferably in their prime or somewhat prime. Rangers also have quite a few draft picks they can use to acquire a player or two as well. Those players at one time in their career helped their respective teams win the cup. We need that help, perhaps a somewhat recent cup winner would help out.

    Please can anyone find out about Patrick Laine. He signed a 2 year deal with Jets, does he become a free agent after that or a rfa? How does that work, cause I have a feeling Laine may strongly consider coming here knowing rangers can contend soon. Rangers get some grit, some players that make the rangers more balanced, tougher and then the icing on the cake would be Laine. So in 2 years we are a legit contender and that summer we approach Laine. It would put the pieces together, and we would get a player in his prime, an elite scorer.

  • What you are proposing Rob is to realign the team to improve numbers that may not matter at all. I did a brief statistical analysis and compared shot attempt differential in even score situations to place in the standings. The average team currently making the playoffs averaged 15.4 in the SAT measure and the average team on the outside averaged 16.7. Absolute correlation would have given numbers 8.5 and 24 respectively. What one sees is that there is an extremely small correlation between shot attempts and winning. [And I have done this a number of times and always get the same results.] This admittedly ignores shot quality, but that simply throws more subjective judgment into the mix.

    As for Ranger goaltending, is it really bailing them out? All goalies are miracle workers. My sister is a Sharks fan and loves their goalies. Are the Ranger goalies really special? Certainly the early Lundqvist (2005-2013) was special. But he is long gone. During the Talbot, Raanta, Georgiev years, Hank has been consistently outperformed by his understudy in the categories of GAA, save percentage, and wins. And when they went to other teams, those tenders did not prove to be all that great, suggesting that better than Lundqvist is not that high a bar. I would conjecture that the great goaltending is more a product of the magical work of people like McDonagh, Girardi, Staal than the tenders themselves — and while I have not had a chance to see the current Rangers more than a few times, my hunch is that Ryan Lindgren is another defenseman in that tradition. [I am taking no position here on the question of whether or not Staal can still play and only focused on his work in the Ranger heyday.]

    Analytics tell us that a bad puck-moving defenseman is better than a good stay-at-home defenseman and in this analytics are wrong. Lindgren is not a distant third behind DeAngelo and Fox. He might even be first.

    • You might as well have analyzed the purchase price of arena beer around the NHL and its effect on 5-on-5 play, for all the relevance your “even-score shot attempt differential” stat has. Situational play in hockey is often based on the score of the game at any particular point in time. Teams play ahead or behind much of the time in the NHL, and that obviously determines tactics for a team. To cherry-pick info like you did here doesn’t really relate to any sort of analysis, it’s just kinda…made-up.

      • This is not cherry picking. I did not compute a bunch of numbers and pick the best one. I did a single computation. I think – though again I did not compute – that using all shot attempts would have gotten numbers even less favorable for the good teams. I did this in the past and was criticized for it. The argument (reasonable in fact) is that teams that are ahead shoot less and teams that are behind shoot more and so winning teams shoot less because they are winning. I eliminated that effect by only counting shots in tie games.

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