Hockey Tactics

Fixing the NY Rangers powerplay: Lafreniere should stick on PP1 when Panarin returns

The New York Rangers haven’t been scoring much on the powerplay. This is pretty impressive, considering last year they had one of the best powerplays. It seems impossible that it turned to crap overnight, but here we are. Clearly a lot of this has to do with Mika Zibanejad’s struggles. It’s tough to blame the injuries, since PP1 was generally unaffected until Panarin’s leave of absence. Clearly something is amiss, and when Panarin returns, it needs addressing. Alexis Lafreniere may be that answer for the powerplay.

Handedness Matters

This isn’t a new issue. In December 2019, I wrote about how four righties on the powerplay isn’t good for long-term success. Without re-hashing the entire thing, this is all about timing. Even before Zibanejad’s struggles, the Rangers were rather predictable. They would load up Zibanejad from off-wing and go from there.

The unit itself is filled with skill. Chris Kreider is in front of the net, and is one of the best net-front presences in the game. Ryan Strome is in the high slot of the 1-3-1, with Panarin on the right and now Adam Fox up top. It’s a quintet that should be feared.

But yet when everyone was there, it wasn’t clicking this year.

This is the interesting thing with the Rangers powerplay. They are still generating chances at the same rate and from the same areas. They are still among the league leaders in xGF% on the powerplay.

Predictability Is A Problem

The Rangers are predictable on the powerplay. They only shoot from one side of the ice, and it’s where Zibanejad usually is. But when he’s not scoring, then the powerplay won’t score. There is also nothing in the high slot where Ryan Strome sits.

That deep shade of blue/purple (deal with me, I’m colorblind) on the right side shows the Rangers generate no shots at all from that side of the ice. This again checks out. There’s a righty there, so the one-timer option is mostly gone. That extra half second to receive the pass, set, and shoot gives the goalie enough time to get over. It also gives the PK enough time to get a stick in the lane. 

With few options from half the ice, the PK can begin to read the play better. They can’t cheat to that side, much like how cheating to Alex Ovechkin won’t work. But you can still read the play and get an extra step.

It’s Really A Simple Fix

The Rangers have Alexis Lafreniere. He’s a lefty with a lethal shot who makes great reads. Why isn’t he on PP1 regularly?

The solution for the Rangers is simple. Lafreniere should be on the top powerplay unit on the off-wing when Panarin returns. That moves Panarin to the high slot, directing traffic with Fox while getting open for his own chances. This would bump Ryan Strome to PP2, which is also struggling.

PP2 would wind up with Strome, K’Andre Miller, Pavel Buchnevich, Kaapo Kakko, and Filip Chytil, bumping Brendan Lemieux off that unit. As long as Strome isn’t in front or in the slot, then this unit can also set up with two shots on the off-wing. 

Problem solved?

It’s Probably Not That Simple

As much as we know the Rangers need to adjust that top unit, it’s never that simple. The Rangers are still a top team at generating quality chances on the powerplay. But until Zibanejad gets going, and it looks like he may finally be revving up, the top unit likely isn’t going to score as much as last year. In fact, given the absurd shooting percentage last year, it’s highly unlikely.

With Zibanejad struggling, getting him going does matter. This includes getting him open looks with space. To open that space with the man advantage, taking shots from the other side of the ice is the best bet. Lafreniere has that lethal shot on the off-wing, and it’s about time the Rangers took full advantage.

While it’s likely not as easy as it sounds, the Rangers need to try something. The powerplay is a problem, and it’s holding back a lot of the offensive potential on this team. Adding Lafreniere to the top powerplay could fix it, and it’s worth a shot.

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  • The biggest difference, as Dave alluded to, is Zibby’s free fall. If he produces at say 1/2 his production from last year on the PP the team would jump from 15% to around 23%, which would be middle of the pack (leading PP is 31%). It doesn’t take that many goals to jump 10-15%.
    Not sure moving Panarin to high slot is the answer, since you’d be removing his superb work along the wall and ability to set up shooters. High slot is usually for big body snipers who either deflect shots from point or have shoot first mentality. They also have to deal with a lot of bodies. Not sure Panarin is the guy for that. Panarin is more effective with time and space. But I agree the Rangers need to incorporate the high slot more on their PP.
    The other valid point Dave makes is the quickness of passes and shots. Rangers seem to be a second off this year overall on their man advantages, and this gives the the other team time to adjust, and the impression that it’s predictable.
    Predictable is fine when you score. I mean the Caps PP is predictable with Ovi, but it’s quick and lethal.

  • I think your idea would work, as the NYR are definitely predictable. Also try adding a mucker (like Rooney) on the PP. See if he can cause some havoc in the corners or behind the net, freeing a sniper for a shot.

    LaFren and Strome are great passers. Let them do their job, but use them on different lines as mentioned.

  • When you lose the best power play quarterback in the league (DeAngelo) – what a shock the metrics decline. Not rocket science. Bring him back.

    • Except I literally just said above it’s producing the same quality chances. It’s almost identical.

      Also, Fox is better than DeAngelo. There is no logical argument against that.

  • Really we are missing our best player ,an our 2nd best player is having a bad year. Did you expect the power play to be better without them.???
    I think overall we are still playing pretty good considering these 2 MAJOR FACTS.

    • What you said and what I said aren’t mutually exclusive. There are holes in the NYR PP, exacerbated by missing Panarin and Zibanejad. You can fix the holes and hope those two come back soon.

  • I for one want to see Gauthier on the 2nd PP unit. He’s big, strong and has good hands

  • And another good post Dave. Putting Lafreniere on the power play is a good idea. Although you would think it would have been thought of by the coach(es). Maybe not. I click on the xGF% link and it takes me to the fancy stat evolution. Anybody willing and able to offer an understanding or explanation to the xGF% stat?

    • xGF is essentially just expected goals for and against

      It measures shot quality on both sides of the ice to see how a player affects the team when their on the ice

  • I think the David Quinn experiment is now over, a team this talented can not continue to under perform like this. The playoffs are a wish, you beat the Devils, Buffalo as you should but when you go up against elite teams you act like you forget how to play the game. Games your team should easily get up for and raise your play they always look unprepared!!!

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