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.
NYR's lack of generating offense lately is officially an issue. I hinted at it in my article yesterday but Rob C. correctly calls it out. The drop-off is apparent starting on 2/28 (game 19) and has led to them being ranked 27th in xGF/60 in March. https://t.co/9k1vIKsyP6 pic.twitter.com/aSCQ9bwg3D
— Rob Luker (@RLuker12) March 28, 2021
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.
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.
Yesterday we looked at NYR's lack of generating offense at 5v5 (expected goals for). Here are the player-level results, sorted by date to when the drop began (2/28).
— Rob Luker (@RLuker12) March 29, 2021
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.