What a fun ride it’s been so far for the Rangers. Dominating wins over two Stanley Cup contenders, and as strong a “schedule loss” as you can have, the Rangers find themselves as one of the best looking teams through the first week of the season. This season, it appears the best defense is a good offense for the Rangers, which is making them look like a completely different team this season. The big difference is the offense is firing on all cylinders, even if they got goalie’d one game, while the defensive play remains steady.
The best defense is a good offense
For a long time, the mantra across all of the major sports was that the best offense was a good defense. This was more or less a copycat philosophy from the Devils and Patriots. In hockey, obstruction and clutch-and-grab hockey was reigning supreme, as it seemed all games were finishing with a 2-1 score. But as more information has become available, the philosophy has evolved. The game has changed, and hte best defense is a good offense, at least for now.
It’s fairly simple to explain: If you have the puck, the other team can’t score. Normally when you have the puck with control for extended periods of time, you’re in the offensive zone. After all, no team just collects the puck in their own zone and sits there for 20 minutes. Save for that one time we saw the 1-3-1 forecheck in Tampa and the Flyers just stopped playing.
Last year’s Rangers were not very good at generating sustained offensive zone pressure, thus they did not have the puck often. They were forced to really capitalize on their chances, at which they were among the best in the NHL. But they were exploited in the playoffs as those Grade A chances slowed and eventually came to a complete stop against the Lightning.
It wasn’t necessarily a philosophy change that was needed, just some personnel swaps. Now the Rangers are looking like one of the best in the NHL as they move towards a top league offense. Offensive zone time is not a stat that is made available to the public, which is the bane of most stat-folks existence, we can use a shot attempts as a substitute stat here. If we want to measure how the best offense is a good defense, we want to see how often the puck is in the offensive zone.
Sustained pressure plus quality chances is a dangerous offense
At 5v5, the Rangers are currently 11th in the NHL in xGF/60 at 2.94. Last year it was 2.25, so immediately the Rangers have improved by almost a goal per game at even strength. Since it’s not just the Kid Line that is able to cycle and retrieve the puck for extended pressure, this matches what we are seeing on the ice.
For what it’s worth, the xGA/60 rate is identical to last year. The difference is the offense, not the defense. It’s a combination of a more well rounded roster, kids taking the next steps, and better execution on the ice. When everything is clicking for the Rangers, they are showing that the best defense is a good offense, as they look infinitely better this year, yet their defensive metrics haven’t changed. It’s all about that offensive zone time and getting pucks to the net.
The Rangers aren’t perfect and there is a long way to go in this season. That’s the disclaimer for basically every post with any sort of analysis right now. But it’s promising what the Rangers have done. There are certainly some areas for improvement, but as long as the Rangers continue to show that the best defense is a good offense, they will be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Especially with Igor Shesterkin in net.