AnalysisHockey Tactics

A look at why, where, and if the Rangers are truly having shooting struggles

One of the common themes this season is that the Rangers are having bad shooting luck. They couldn’t seem to buy a goal, and the powerplay was completely hamstrung. While that may have been true early in the season, the Rangers have been on fire the last month. They capped it with their nine goal explosion, and are now shooting 9.43% at even strength this season. That’s fifth in the NHL. So are the Rangers having shooting struggles? It’s a real question.

While the team itself has been scoring, it still feels like the Rangers are having trouble scoring. While most of this can be pinned on the anemic power play, which is shooting 10.2%, good for 28th in the NHL, there’s still that nagging feeling the Rangers are going to regress back to not scoring.

Where are they finishing?

The above are heatmaps of where the Rangers are getting their shot attempts from last year, compared to this year. There are a few things that stand out:

  • The Rangers have no finishing ability low on the left side of the ice on wrist shots. They lit it up from there last year. This is despite an 82-game pace of 2,225 wrist shots this year, compared to 1,988 last year. This is something to keep an eye on.
  • That said, the Rangers are actually getting more expected goals from wrist shots this year than last. They are on an 82-game pace of 161 xG, whereas they finished with 146 xG last year. They are also on an 82-pace of 158 goals via wrist shot, compared to 150 last year.
  • Also worth noting that the Rangers have more slapshot goals from the left side than last year’s pace. They are on pace to almost double their slap shot goals from last year.
  • The Rangers are still one of the better net front presences in the league, mostly because of Chris Kreider. They are on the same expected goals rate as last year for tips and deflections. The difference? They are on an 82-game pace of 44 goals via tip/deflection, compared to 36 last season.

So what does all this mean (assuming I’m reading this correctly)?

The Rangers are actually getting more shots at all situations and more a better expected-goals rate this year than last. I find that to be very interesting, and quite frankly not what I expected.

Is the difference just the powerplay?

All of this leads me to believe that the issue really is just the powerplay. As mentioned above, the Rangers have an atrocious 10.2% shooting rate on the powerplay. That’s 28th in the league. This brings me to three conclusions:

1. It really is just the powerplay

We wouldn’t be having any of these conversations if the Rangers were converting even league average on the powerplay. Those wrist shots that the Rangers aren’t scoring on? That’s Mika Zibanejad’s issues to start the season. This year it’s Artemi Panarin on that side, and he’s getting more one-timer opportunities. 

2. The powerplay setup is hurting them

At the risk of beating a dead horse, the lack of a shooting option from the off-wing to complement Panarin is killing them. Handedness on the powerplay matters. If it’s not Alexis Lafreniere on the top powerplay unit, then it should be Pavel Buchnevich. Someone that can present a legitimate shooting option from that side of the ice would open better chances from the Panarin/Zibanejad spot.

The Rangers had that last season. They had the one-timer option running from both sides of the ice. There is a massive slapshot hole there this year. Is it personnel? Or is it just the Rangers becoming predictable, and trying to run the same play repeatedly?

3. Health factors into this

The Rangers were without Zibanejad for most of the season. Or at least without most of Zibanejad. They were without Panarin for a couple of weeks as well. Interestingly enough, just as Zibanejad was starting to get his legs back under him, Panarin took his leave of absence.

The power play setup is a problem, but it’s the same setup as last year. In theory, a healthy Zibanejad with a returning Panarin should be able to get close to repeating their production with the man advantage, within reason. I do question if the Rangers would have had shooting struggles if Zibanejad was truly healthy all year.

The top unit does need another lefty on it, and that is a hill I die on.

Obligatory: Is it because of DeAngelo’s absence?

This has to be addressed, and the short answer here is no. Adam Fox has an xGF/60 on the powerplay of 8.9. DeAngelo’s last year was 9.07. That is a negligible difference. 

Is there some kind of psyche difference? Possibly, but Fox is a better defenseman and puck mover than DeAngelo. I find it hard to believe that, given all the evidence we’ve seen that the Rangers are actually generating more offense this year than last. 

But is it possible? Sure. I could be wrong.

Patience is a virtue

This season has been a weird one for the Rangers. Between injuries, COVID protocol, Russian hit pieces, the ghost of Mika Zibanejad, and firing Tony DeAngelo into the sun, the Rangers have had one of the wackiest seasons in recent memory. But this is also the same team as last year, just adding Alexis Lafreniere. The Rangers shooting struggles were more about luck than anything else.

The good news is that the Rangers had roster holes this year, which limited their ability to truly compete in a brutal East Division. In essence, the Rangers dealt with shooting regression in a year that was stacked against them to begin with.

This bodes well for next season. They may not win it all, but it’s safe to assume a giant leap forward.

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  • While the power play is a problem for scoring, the bigger problem is the inability to react to those problems by the coaching staff. Night after night, they send the same 5 out there with a similar result. If we want to see different results, change the configuration, change the players!

    Our team seems to have many between game practices, but can’t manage to work on a different strategy for the PP. Someone behind the bench is stubborn to a fault.

  • Nice plots, Dave. That’s the content I like. However, I’m wondering if you can really compare year to year using these plots. The colors are relative to league average. Are those a five year running average, last three years, just this year, or something else? If it’s just compared to the current year, then maybe the entire league is scoring less (or more) than last year.

    I also notice that there’s more blue in the slapshots from the right. Is that panarin or z?

    • If I’m reading this correctly, then the Rangers were well above average last year, and well below this year. If you assume the average stays roughly the same, then you can also assume that the Rangers are worse in these areas.

      These are also year to year, not five year averages. There’s going to be variance, but it’s hard to argue that the powerplay is performing the way it did last year. If anything, these plots illustrate that point.

      The last question about the slapshots on the right, I honestly don’t know. It’s something I’m going to watch closely over the next few games.

      • Yeah, it’s definitely clear they are below league average this year across the board, but it’s funny that they’re shooting more, which definitely aligns with the lower shooting percentages.

        Looking at the plots more too, they’re shooting worse on both sides of the ice in terms of wrists/snaps, and well off the mark down the middle of slapshots. I wonder if the slapshot concern is just that they’re not getting the opportunities from there?

        And I’m still interested in the variance, especially since this year is structured so differently. Are the averages skewed because the North division is kinda crazy with the goals, for example? Sounds like a Micah question tbh.

        Man, I wish I had time to make those Patreons worth it to look into these more.

  • When Fox started quarterbacking the first powerplay unit, he was initially a little tentative and not quite as creative as DeAngelo was last season in moving off the point and slipping down low in the process. But that has changed as the season has gone on and the kid is much looser and playing as well there as he does doing everything else.

    That being said, I think that it was Zibanejad’s poor start, and missing Panarin for a couple of weeks, that limited the effectiveness of the power play. Both of those things seem to have been rectified. So I am not concerned. They will generate more points on the power play.

  • Statistical numbers are a funny thing. I think if you did this analysis 3 games ago the results would have been different.(less positive) We have scored 17 goals in the last 3 games. Nothing like a 9 goal game to revert your averages back to the statistical norm.

    Look at the PK. We were ranked 3rd in the league 2 games ago. We gave up 2 PP goals to Philly on Monday and dropped to 5th. That sword cuts both ways.

    They seem to have turned things around offensively and that is the good news. The Defense is also greatly improved which may be the better news. The power play is a weak spot, but we have the talent to fix that issue.

    We need to see how the full season plays out though before we can do an accurate year to year comparison.

  • We can look at all the heat maps we can get our hands on, but the fact remains that if our top 2 lines are the only ones that score, that is a problem. If our veterans (like Zib) are not producing, we have a problem. If our goalies let in a softie a game, we have a problem.

    Our kids are developing, but slowly so the Panarins, Zibbys, Buch and Krieder need to do more. IF they are below their norms, than we are a middle of the road team.

    Need someone not on the top 2 lines to begin a scoring streak.

  • Dave, could you compile the time spent out on the PP as units and compare last year to this year? I believe the 1st PP unit stays out way too long just passing the puck around — the 2nd unit literally gets garbage time on the PP, like 20-25 seconds at the tail end with barely enough time to set up. Is that 2nd unit much less productive this year?

    • Currently the Rangers have only seven players who have been on the ice for more than one power play goal. On defense, only Fox. Trouba, Bitetto, and DeAngelo have been on the ice for one each. The future quality player currently horrific Alexis Lafreniere has been on the ice for one PP goal in 56 minutes of ice time with two shorties against.

      The stats suggest the second unit has given up two more goals than they have scored. At least in terms of goals then, the Rangers would be better off without a second unit, just have a regular unit out there.

      ** In defense of Lafreniere, no one on the Ranger 50 man roster has been capable of being a decent NHLer at 19, not even Artemi Panarin. And relatively few players in NHL history. And he looks like he is studying the game as he plays, which augurs well.

      • Whatever the configurations it would be an interesting analysis to look at each team in the league and break down the % ice time for both their units … and in the Rangers’ case, to look at that breakdown in comparison to last year. Clearly there are other factors at play here as well, like Mika’s “timing”, the loss of Panarin for 2+ weeks, etc., but I still believe the distribution of PP ice time between the units is different this season and that in itself may account for some of the decline in the overall PP production.

        • You are certainly right here. While researching my last comment, i stumbled on the fact that Adam Fox is third among defensemen in PP TOI/game (oddly behind Makar and Quinn Hughes, the nominees for rookie of the year ahead of him). So the Rangers are using PP1 a lot compared to other teams. The reason would seem obvious. PP2 is a liability, not a strength. And there is no net front presence that I can see.

          • They weren’t a liability last season and what net front presence did we lose? Besides, they could hardly do worse than the 1st PP unit at this point — but the best reason to have a 2nd unit play 35-40 seconds of the PP is to allow the 1st Unit a breather … they’re staying on too long and become increasingly ineffective the longer they are out there.

    • I can look at average TOI per player on each powerplay. Since PP1 normally stays the same, it would be easy to figure out.

      Just a note that this year will be rough on the numbers because of Panarin’s absence and Mika’s demotion for a while.

  • “there’s still that nagging feeling the Rangers are going to regress back to not scoring”

    Why do you feel this way? If their scoring is regressing back to the mean and (or because of) Zib is back to his scoring ways (hopefully), then they should be fine 5 on 5.

    The issue remains on the PP, which may just require a tweak of the deployment (as has been mentioned many times). We’ll see what comes of that, but you mentioned all the obvious factors of the low shooting percentages, which seem to be correcting themselves. Not sure why the assumption that they are going to regress back to not scoring.

    I’m actually pretty confident they will score, at the very least, at a league average rate going forward assuming health and Zib cooperates.

  • I know I’m beating a dead horse here but how many natural shooters do nyr really have?

    Let’s start at fwd. Mika and kreider. Panarin obviously can at an elite level but hes a playmaker by trade. Kakko: still developing my judgement.
    Laf – seems like a bigger version of panarin.

    Strome – shot is prob his best asset but goals haven’t accumulated for him, hmm?

    Chytil – playmaker

    Buch – playmaker, useless wailing away from the half wall Like hes malkin or something.

    Kravtsov seems to have a good long range release .. but is it his primary option or tenth resort? We shall find out in a week or so.

    D – tda was our best shooting d (that may or may not be saying much)

    This has been well documented but shooting skill from d has been a sore spot. Mcdonagh imo was really overlooked in that aspect. Hopefully nils can bring that ability bc the group needs it.

  • Anyone consider the fact that we play in the toughest division all year and only Buffalo is a true weak team?

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