A look at the Rangers inability to generate scoring chances

Fresh off two losses where the Rangers looked inept for 100 minutes in a row, the conversation has shifted to the Rangers’ inability to generate scoring chances. It’s actually a relatively alarming trend that has been silenced by a few well placed scoring outbursts. To be more specific, there were five (3/4 & 3/6 vs NJD, 3/13 vs BOS, 3/17 & 3/25 vs PHI) where the Rangers looked to be generating chances at will. Those stick out in our minds, but the reality is that throughout March, the Rangers have been bad offensively.

The Hot Hand

As Rob Luker pointed out over the weekend, the Rangers are finally getting their scoring touch back. Their shooting percentage, which was due for regression back to the mean at some point, finally came alive. The goals poured in. Yet as we saw with the Alain Vigneault teams, scoring goals in droves masks other offensive deficiencies.

This all came to a head yesterday in the middle of the Rangers loss to the Caps. For two periods, making five in a row, the Rangers generated next to nothing offensively. As noted about by the Robs, this struggle really dates back to 2/28, and has been more than a month of relatively inept offense.

This seems counter intuitive, but it isn’t. The key to consistent offense is driving play and getting chances. As we’ve learned, goals can be flukes and subject to random variance (hot goaltending, a stray stick in the lane, a post, ice shavings in the crease). The Rangers were 27th in the league in generating scoring chances in March, down from 10th and 11th in January and February.

A hot hand masks underlying issues. Maybe the Rangers started getting too cute offensively. We’ve seen that. Perhaps it’s less complicated though. The Rangers have played 15 games in March, and 11 came against the Penguins, Flyers, Bruins, and Caps. In a normal year, all four make the playoffs. This year, only three will.

It’s Everyone

Usually there is some finger pointing and blame. Early in the season, the Rangers were generating scoring chances but not finishing. It was easy to point to Mika Zibanejad and his struggles. Blame is a strong word for Zibanejad, given the post-COVID struggles he had. But, finger pointing is finger pointing.

Now the Rangers are finishing but not generating scoring chances. The fun part is that there is no one person to blame. It’s everyone. Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere, who had the prototypical Rangers start to the season, generating scoring chances but struggling to finish, have fallen off a cliff. Ditto Filip Chytil, although that might be injury related. There’s no way a broken thumb heals in three weeks. Since that trio spent some decent time together, all that may be connected. Specifically Laf and Chytil, who are still paired together.

It’s not just the kids either. From the top six, everyone except Zibanejad has taken a big step back. Most notably Ryan Strome, but even Artemi Panarin has had a dip in generating chances.

It gets worse on defense, as not one defenseman has seen a positive change the past month. Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox continue to be an elite pairing, but the other four defensemen have nosedived. The third pair is certainly a huge issue for the Rangers, as all three (down to two) have been downright bad. As much as the Brett Howden experiment up front needs to end, the Libor Hajek experiment on the blue line needs to end as well.

Is there a fix?

This is the $64,000 question. Generally speaking, NHL head coaches don’t “teach” an offensive zone style of play. They will preach specific types of zone entry –carry in, dump in, etc– but that is usually based on the line and the scenario. Coaches rely on the players, their abilities, and their creativity to generate chances.

In this regard, the Rangers are too skilled to have this kind of a slump in generating scoring chances. When clicking, they are probably one of the top offenses in the league. The thing is, they haven’t fully clicked at all this season. The Rangers were either generating scoring chances and not finishing, or not generating scoring chances and finishing. It’s maddening.

The only fix may be to just let the Rangers ride it out this season. We aren’t getting wholesale lineup changes. The guys struggling are the ones that are, for the most part, a key part of the future. Sometimes less is more, and less coaching in this aspect can lead to better results. It may be a tough pill to swallow, but let this ride out. Remember, it’s about the 2021-2022 season.

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  • We need the 3rd and 4th lines to generate offense, or at least draw some penalties. Playoff teams generate offense from all 4 lines, using their defense too.

  • This is the “Tony D” effect. Other than Fox, no one is generating offense from the back. We need to replace D. Smith with an offensive minded defenseman.

    Chytil, LaFren, Howden and PDG are doing nothing to create scoring chances.

  • Perhaps part of the inability to generate scoring chances is because we have a coach who is stubbornly choosing to emphasize other aspects of the game, at the cost of a more productive offense.

    From a recent Post article about Gauthier: “Being a goal scorer is also like you get a goal-scoring role,” Gauthier said following practice… Right now, [I have] a different role, I’m adding something to my game. I’m playing more physical, being better defensively, like a 200-foot game. Trying to really work on my overall game, but to score goals you need to play a lot of minutes, and right now this is not my role.”

    When you think about the stranglehold Quinn has placed on our kids in furtherance of “the cause,” it really isn’t surprising that goals are harder to come by than we anticipated.

    A quote by Strome from a recent Post article about the delay in inserting Kravtsov into the lineup: “I think it’s important that everyone takes things slow and expectations slow. Often times, especially to jump in the middle of the season when we’ve got a system and all these things going, it’s tough to learn on the fly. It’s not an easy thing that he’s going to have to do, but he’s got the skill level to do it. We’ll see what happens and how the games go, looking forward to seeing what he can do.”

    Ah, the “system.” So instead of adding Kravtsov’s scoring ability into the lineup, we have to allow Quinn time to re-wire him, so he plays the game “the right way.”

    Time will tell if this is the best approach. Some will say this is the right way to bring the kids along, that they’ll be the better for it in the long run. I don’t think so, and look forward to the day when we have a head coach who will turn our talent loose, let our guys play to their strengths.

    • That’s why we are DQ’d from winning. Quinn is not an NHL level coach. He is unable to put the players in the best position to excel. He is a stubborn college coach that will make his high school players grow up his way. Think of Bill Belichick or Barry Trotz. They adjust their systems to maximize the talent of their players. I hope JD gets this.

        • If Quinn ends up with a losing record the next 5 games then yes it is on the coach. IMO, Knoblauch knew how to deploy, mix and match the lines better. Knoblach has NHL experience and has learned from and been an assistant coach.

          • Knobbys in game adjustments are what I like. Dq can’t run the team during a game. He has his system and can’t pivot when required. And his first game back everyone looked timid. Bad look.

            I liked the Dow hiring in the beginning but he needs to improve if he wants to be in this squad.

  • DQ coach your players strengths not their “weaknesses”. Teach the whole game in practice. Wanna watch McDavid, Barzal, Suter, Kaprizov, Marner play D?

  • When you play a couple of games like they did against Philly in the 9-0 and 8-3 game you’re bound to carry over the “cute” offensive zone play — trying to thread too many needles, etc. … sure it worked against Philly, Buffalo, etc. they played some horrible defensive games, but the Caps, etc. are another story and requires a more deliberate and structured play.

  • Dave, while I agree with you about the Howden experiment needing to end, I’m not sure why you’re down on Hajek, who has been solid defensively in his most recent 24 game stint, he’s an above average skater and has not shied away from physical play, if he didn’t hustle to keep the puck in the zone, knowing he was going to get steamrolled by Wilson, the 3rd goal in yesterday’s game doesn’t get scored.
    Our current options to replace him are Bitetto, who would not be an upgrade or Reunanen, who might offer a little more offense but is not an upgrade defensively, so unless we make a trade, I see Hajek remaining our 6th D for the rest of the season, barring injury.

    • And yes I’m aware Geertsen could also be an option, but they been playing him at at forward lately, so I don’t think they view him as a dman at the NHL level.

        • Okay, fine, he may not be, but they did sign him to an NHL contract for a reason, having previously been on an AHL contract, which is extremely rare, so they obviously see something in him, I threw him in there for arguments sake.
          But that doesn’t answer my question about Hajek.

    • Agree Hajek has never been an offensive defenceman. He was projected to be a steady stay at home defender. I like his play along the boards and he is a good skater. His positioning is improving and he doesn’t turn the puck over as often as the dmen that Dave raves about.

      • I have to say I had just about given up on him and was ready to write him off as a bust before his most recent 24 game stint, he’s really turned things around and has done nothing to embarrass himself out there, I’m happy he got another shot.
        I would say his positioning has been greatly improved and he’s showing a lot more confidence handling the puck, hence very few turnovers.

        • He just turned 23 …. there may not be much more there, but something more is possible. He doesn’t offend me.

      • Hajek has been solid on defense and improving with each game. He’s not a “puck mover” but outside of Fox no other Ranger Dman is either. I like Libors play.

      • Hajek’s giveaway to takeaway ratio in his career is 2:1, and it’s only slightly better this season. Hajek is not great with the puck, especially under forechecking pressure, but you have to like his athleticism, skating, and attitude on the ice. He’s a good 3rd pair D prospect still I think. He’s got the speed to keep up with most players in the league, and experience ought to bring some poise and calmness to his game.

        The offensive dmen Dave raves about? Giving away the puck? Oddly enough, a player has got to have the puck a lot to give it away a lot. Look at the top 10 in giveaways throughout the league, it’s all players who are good to great. Last season Draisaitl, Pastrnak, Carlson, Huberdeau, Ekblad, and Jeff Petry were some of the top 10 guys in the league in giveaways. On the Rangers, Adam Fox gives it up a lot, but balances it with a high number of takeaways. Hajek does not.

  • I think your article and stats speak to the team overthinking and outsmarting themselves on offense the past month, Dave. While they’ve enjoyed some wild victories, they’ve had a March of two extremes. It’s been both tantalizing and frustrating for us fans. We see the 4,6 and 8 goal games they win and we get excited… only to see two follow up games where they score 1 or 2 and lose.

    The Rangers played 15 games so far this month with one more to go. They are 8-7.

    -In 8 of their games they scored 4 or more goals for a 3.6 g/gm avg. (6 victories)

    -In the other 7 games they scored 3 or less for a paltry 1.14 g/gm avg. (5 losses).

    -They averaged 3.6 goals/game during March. Their overall goals for avg. is 3.12 and good for 11th place in the league.

    Some players are enjoying great scoring months in Mika (natty hatties), Fox (NHL 1st star of the week) and Strome (11 game pt scoring streak).

    Even though they’re 8-7 for March, it somehow feels better than it actually is.
    Like you point out, if they only put more pucks to the net…

  • It’s just amazing to me how you analytic people think these players are robots or a computer game. You see these statistics and think they are the answer to everything. What you fail to see and don’t seem to want to except is THIS ARE HUMANS! Human have feels, emotion, thoughts, families, and problems. Humans can have bad days due to a family problem, an argument with a loved one, a disagreement with a friend or a boss and all of life’s other problems. So Please stop with this experiment or this players isn’t as good as the stats say nonsense! Are you perfect at your job everyday through all life’s problems?

  • We’ve been riding out bad offenses for years. First with the group before the rebuild and with this current group (core of Kreider, Zibanejad, Buchneich, Panarin, Strome) for another three.

    The problem is the players. This core simply can’t get it done consistently as a top six group should.

    The top six forward positions on this team need a change in personnel.

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