While we are on the opposite end of the calendar from spring, the New York Rangers have come into the 2022-23 season like a lion. Led by the core of their top six forwards and their top four defensemen (and in spite of some depth choices that we’ll touch on), the Rangers have mostly handled both good and not-so-good opponents with relative ease. And while the goals for may be lacking slightly thus far, the process taken game by game is beginning to indicate that the NY Rangers trends may be sustainable for the season.
While the team was different after the trade deadline last year, the story for most of the year and sometimes in the late spring was that the Rangers struggled to generate offense at 5v5. That script has entirely flipped. The Rangers rank in the top-10 across the board when it comes to Corsi (shot attempts) and Expected Goals. You can also use Fenwick (removing blocked shots), Scoring Chances (home plate in front of the net), or High Danger Chances (closest area of the home plate) and the result is still the same.
Simply put, the only possible worry one might have (at this juncture) is the chance that the Rangers shoot cold this year. It is certainly possible that happens, but overall one could argue it’s a better problem to have than dealing with the inability to generate offense to begin with. Overall, this team has some of the best talent in the NHL, so to apply one of my favorite mantras: I’ll believe they go the entire season shooting cold when I see it.
NY Rangers Trends – A clear picture in the top six
The forwards are being led by the established top two lines – and it’s somewhat refreshing just to state it plainly that way. Of forward lines that have played more than 50 minutes at 5v5 together so far (via Evolving Hockey), the Rangers have two of the top 25 when it comes to shot & scoring chance/expected goal share. They’re both in the top 10 when it comes to expected goals for per 60 with Trocheck’s group being the defensive “bums,” ranking 41st out of 51 when it comes to xG against per 60.
As the HockeyViz chart shows, the litmus test that awaits Gallant & co. is how they’ll handle the bottom six once Chytil & Kravtsov are ready to go. The generating of scoring chances drops quickly when one of the top two lines aren’t on the ice and it all but evaporates if the fourth line is over the boards.
Chytil will help drag that 3L to some chances, no doubt, but if the team really wants to lean into the modern ways they’ll ice four lines that can skate and generate offense when possible. That would involve actually sitting Ryan Reaves. You can love his vibes all you want, but simply put he does not generate offense when he’s on the ice. Even Ryan Carpenter, who had a tough first few games, has recovered and when away from Reaves (in limited TOI) manages to get to a shot & chance share of around or over 50%.
Give me a bottom six something like:
A final forward thought: need a little more time on Blais, Gauthier, and Vesey. You can probably guess which one of the three looks the worse when it comes to the numbers (he ain’t on the 3L anymore).
Defense pairs led by the top four
As for the defense there are really one two topics. We’re switching to Expected Goals Above Replacement (which the chart is only offered in totals, not per 60 TOI) so we can see some breakdown of each defender’s game. This is also less influenced by shooting/save percentage which removes some bias against defensemen specifically.
Fox is off to a great start and Lindgren is doing his usual solid-at-defense thing, which makes them a dominant pair. Miller has also had a strong start particularly in limiting shots & chances against. The topic not a lot might be paying attention to, however, is that Jacob Trouba is very much adding to the whispered twitter talk that he is the one holding the pair back.
While as a pair he and Miller have produced good results, the issue continues to be that Trouba’s lack of positive impact on limiting shots & chances then doesn’t allow Miller to use his speed & skill. While hitting hard can sometimes help, the timing of the hits and being in position to do so when playing defense is more critical to success.
Given that he’s wearing the C now, Trouba isn’t going anywhere and I’m not going to suggest he is. I also believe his play so far is an outlier and that it should get better with more time. But as I wrote back in September 2019 and have annoyingly squawked about since, he should be paired with a defense-first LHD who can allow him to roam and take risks. Lindgren is that option, but it’ll likely take an injury to the top 4 defense for that to happen.
The second defenseman related topic is that Libor Hajek isn’t an NHL-caliber player and never has been. We will continue to be force-fed him for reasons unknown and it’ll hurt the team. I do feel bad that he was rushed to the NHL, but it’s simply roster-depth malpractice that he’s the 7th defenseman for the New York Rangers.
A rough start for Halak
To wrap up, let’s talk about our new friend Jaroslav Halak (Igor Shesterkin is fine and will continue to be one of the best goalies on the planet). Halak has had a rough start! No one is arguing that. However after watching the Rangers dominate the Flyers on Monday and then the announcement on Wednesday that Gallant is going back to Shesterkin against the Bruins (rightfully for the matchup), the question now becomes when will Halak get his next shot?
The bars on the graphs above are set at 1.5 standard deviations, which means either Halak has lost 40-50% of his NHL talent, or he has just had a very rough start. To the credit of the Rangers, they proved last year that they’re not going to give Shesterkin 70 games ala the Henrik years, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt here. I just want to point out that unless Halak is having a Marty Biron moment, I think they can go back to him given that the Rangers are actually outplaying teams now.
Overall this is a very encouraging start from the Rangers. While it was an odd preseason where the current lineup barely played together until the last moment (still don’t fully get that), the important combinations are clicking. I’d be remiss to not mention Lafrenière and Kakko, who have been impact players from the start, as they build upon their proven success last year in the top six. If the Rangers continue to build on their game to game process the way they have, the goals will come.