Alexis Lafreniere bust? Not likely, at least not yet.

The 2021-22 New York Rangers are a Matryoshka doll. The Rangers have layers.

Sitting second in the Metro, fourth in the Conference, and fifth in the league, they look like a pretty big doll. When you break down their inner layers, though, it’s surprising that the pieces are fitting the way they are. For a more normal team, the second layer would be strong Even Strength/5v5 play, then followed by good goaltending, and finally some positive special teams. Only a handful of teams every year have all three layers, but there’s usually a few.

At the moment, the Rangers just keep winning and the doll gets bigger. Their even strength/5v5 play propped up by a three-legged stool of shooting percentage, a top-5 PP1 unit, and a Vezina-leading goaltender. At times this year it’s been a full-on Weekend at Bernie’s situation. I’m aware that this isn’t news, but the fact that little has changed since I last wrote in early January speaks to the journey we’ve been on.

This leads back to this New York Ranger team that we all love and, for lack of a better phrase, what they should do versus what they end up doing in most situations. It ends up being a roller coaster of mental gymnastics to attempt to understand their logic sometimes. This is not to say that they necessarily owe use an explanation by any means, but needless to say winning easily masks merited scrutiny of the decisions made with this roster and lineup.

If the Rangers three strengths continue to be strengths (given that shot & save % are fickle beings) then they should be doing all they can to just be average when it comes to ES/5v5 play – where 75-80% of a single game is played. By getting anywhere near average when it comes to shots & chances at ES/5v5, suddenly their ability to finish and their stellar goaltending become X-factor advantages rather than the reason they’re staying in games.

Before we rush to the deadline for help, though, Gerard Gallant should be using what has been seen in results so far to put together the best possible lineup to be average at ES/5v5. The Rangers are expected to be healthy when they return, so by removing the weak links and rewarding those that have played well through December and January, he’d be performing a worthy experiment while we wait to see if reinforcements will arrive by trade.

Optimal forward lines

For the forward lines with minimum 50 minutes together, we can sort the tiers as such:

  • Average or Above results: 13-93-20, 10-93-20, 13-72-15, 20-93-24, 13-16-21, 10-16-21, and 10-16-24
  • Below Average Results: 10-16-29, 20-93-21, 29-17-75, 17-21-75, and 14-17-75

Overall, we tend to see the same numbers in the same tier, which indicates Gallant should have some relatively obvious options to make up his top and bottom six. By allowing 13-93-20 to stay together and reuniting Kakko with 10 & 16, you possibly form a top six that can hang with almost any team. This pays dividends to the bottom six as well, as Chytil slots back into 3C (sorry, he’s not a winger) to solidify the 3L – with two of Gauthier, Hunt, and Goodrow (or even possibly Barron). From there the 4L is what it is, so long as it leaves McKegg as the odd man out.

For the record: I understand that Greg McKegg does seemingly provide a small amount of value as a penalty killer. That being said, the real driver of that is Kevin Rooney, who can be paired with Goodrow on the PK1 to basically the same net effect.

Optimal defense pairs

On defense, there are only two pairs worth of being called average or above: Lindgren-Fox and Hajek-Jones. In their 6 GP together, Hajek & Jones had a good run where the offense they were on the ice for led the way. While I have my doubts that pair would continue to see success, in the end we give credit where credit is due.

Overall, a similar theme has emerged in that when Miller-Trouba is on the ice the Rangers shots & scoring chances go up both for and against – but more so against. As some of us have written ad nauseum, Trouba’s primary contribution in his NHL career has come in the form of offensive impacts. Miller has improved defensively this year (as shown below), however more is needed when it comes to being paired with Trouba.

By pairing Miller with Fox and Lindgren with Trouba, you better complement Trouba and allow Fox to, simply put, continue being Fox while Miller supports. Is there a risk it doesn’t work? Of course! But the beauty is they can always go back to the pairs as is after a 10-15 game experiment.

The third pair should consist of the following four: Schneider, Lundkvist, Nemeth, and Jones. Nemeth clearly has a personal issue going on which may explain his severe drop in play, however he and Nils were the third pair during the Rangers best run of play this year from mid NOV to early DEC. Braden Schneider seems to be holding his own, and Zac Jones doesn’t look out of place. The only issue is that Gallant is afraid to pair two rookies together, to which I say to hell with. Fortune favors the bold (and you can always go back, anyway!).


Shesterkin should win the Vezina, and possibly the Hart trophy. Georgiev has been a capable backup that continues to struggle when it comes to the PK. They might love Georgiev, but his time as a Ranger is limited unless he’s willing to sign for less than $1 million this summer.

The Rangers have layers, and they are complicated

Look, in the end, the Rangers should be trying to do more despite their over-achievement this season. They’re in a unique spot with cap space that will hopefully be utilized on some actually good forwards which will allow them to push better talent into depth roles. This is a good problem to have, but in the meantime they should also be trying to see exactly how much help they should be pursuing.

If trying some of the ideas laid out here leads to sustained success, that could change the amount of capital NYR should or may be willing to spend, seeing as they will need it this summer as the cap crunch begins. They’ve banked more points than any of us could ask for, so it’s time to see if they can find the best possible lineup with this given roster.

Or, they’ll play it safe, and I’ll continue using the Serenity Now therapy treatments when practice & game lines are announced. What’s the second part of that saying, by the way?


More About: