The NY Rangers are fine, at least for now
If you browse different sources of 2023 Stanley Cup odds, you’ll find a limited range of implied percentages for the Rangers. Generic Vegas odds and Inpredictable have them just inside the top 10 with 16-1 odds (~5.9%). Hockey-Reference, which uses some simplified modeling, puts them at 3.9%. Public models, such as MoneyPuck or TheAthletic’s GameScore-based model that rely more heavily on shot-location based data, put them below 2%. The Rangers are fine, at least per these models.
Overall, for anyone watching most NYR games this year, it’s hard to argue this feels overtly wrong – especially given their start to the season and then how it progressed from there (a slide back, with the goaltending coming to the rescue).
The reason the Rangers are fine is because this word can be flexed in many ways. The odds noted above are fine because they’re realistic, especially given that their top-3 likeliest opponents in the first round are pretty good (NJD, CAR, BOS), plus the overall strength of the East. Shesterkin and Halak have been fine in the sense of being very good like fine wine. The 5v5 play has just been fine (but not great), and the power play has been fine given that they’re still generating chances – but they can’t buy a goal.
Overall, the Rangers are fine
The Rangers results at 5v5 in the month of January resembled a new combination we haven’t quite seen yet this season. The Rangers are fine and they did well at generating and limiting shot attempts and, to an average sense, expected goals (scoring chances) against. That said, they’re still struggling to generate quality chances for at 5v5. Seeing as we use Corsi (shot attempts) as a partial proxy, it’s a slight sign that they’re a perimeter team when it comes to offense – something I think many would agree with at this point.
The good news is that in their 12 games in January, their ability to generate a higher amount of expected goals & high danger chances has been increasing back to the point of being at or slightly above league average. That said, while the Rangers are generating more shots & chances for, they’re also giving up more chances on fewer shots against – a trend we would prefer to at least stall out or slightly reverse. For the record, I’m not asking for the Rangers to really do anything fully different as a team defense, seeing as an average team defense plus Igor Shesterkin will typically keep them in a game against any team.
The power play will be fine, or should be fine
Before we get to the individual players performance of the first 49 games, I did want to point out one topic that has cause Rangers fan some ire as of late – the power play (mostly PP1). On the season, the Rangers are fine on the power play, generating offense at a top 5 level even though they’re only converting at a mid-table rate. That being said, the last month saw a similar slide like we saw back in November, where the generation of power play offense slowed to an average rate while being coupled with a bottom 5-ish goals for per 60.
We’re able to see this in the above chart that takes their goals-for with the man advantage and subtracts their expected-goals-for – aka anytime it slides negative they’re generating more than they score. Ebbs and flows should be expected, but as you can see last year the trend was generally up for the last 50 games of the season (culminating with their tear at the end of the year, helping them earn contender status).
I have been preaching patience for the most part with PP1 because of how hot & cold one can run due to sample size. Should Gerard Gallant & co. tweak PP1? Probably, seeing as you can always go back to the typical unit. But at the same time they’ll probably break out of the slide from a pure statistics standpoint because they still generate an average or better amount of offense. The Rangers power play is kind of a sleeping giant – one that if it awakes could see the Rangers get more league-wide attention if they’re still playing ok at 5v5 (and getting the needed goaltending, of course).
The key players are (mostly) also fine
From an individual player standpoint 40 games in, we have a line of demarcation of general talent level like we saw last year – meaning those that can actually help generate offense see better results than those who can’t. The only true play drivers this year have been Adam Fox-Ryan Lindgren as a pair (which is still mostly Fox), Jimmy Vesey, Chris Kreider, and to a lesser extent Kaapo Kakko and Mika Zibanejad. Vesey fully earned his extension, and let’s hope it’s not a flash in the pan, while Kreider is still fighting off father time.
While we know the team is controlling shot share fairly well lately, the on-ice expected goal results by player tells a more accurate story of their impact. Again, only a few players consistently are on ice while the Rangers are generating quality offense at 5v5. Given that both Drury and Gallant are seemingly dead set on having a low event 3rd pair & 4th line, the depth ends up looking pretty paltry here.
The weakest link
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the third defense pair. Ben Harpur earned an extension due to the very good play of Igor Shesterkin & Jaroslav Halak, as they have posted a 0.932 save % with him on-ice. This is despite the fact that when he comes over the boards, all offense stops and typically he and Braden Schneider end up in their own zone more often than not.
Before you think, well, he might be giving up a lot but they’re not dangerous chances, please hold that thought. In his 19 GP so far at 5v5, he is the Rangers worst player when it comes to high danger chances against per 60 (16.51) – 14% worse than the next player who happens to be Zac Jones (14.48).
You can think Zac Jones isn’t ready for the NHL, but a pair of Jones-Schneider at least helps generate some offense to counteract their questionable defensive play; something NYR always needs more of. Couple this with his good tracking metrics when it comes to zone retrievals & exits, plus the fact that Jones-Schneider looked good away from Reaves/the 4L, and it’s somewhat baffling Jones won’t be getting another shot because of Harpur (hope I’m wrong – shoutout David Lefcort for the research on that).
Miller-Trouba is the wild card
While a way to seemingly improve the third pair is ignored by the Rangers brass, a bigger part to their success last month and beyond is the play and results of K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba. After a good start to the year, they had a rough go together for most of November and December, but one reason to this is completely out of their control.
Unlike Harpur, Miller-Trouba as a pair has seen sub-0.890 (!!!) goaltending at 5v5 for the season, and as you can see above it was only recently did that start to positively regress again after it didn’t stick 20 games ago. While I’m not dismissing the up and down play of the pair (with Trouba being more the focus there), with a return to even just a normally-low PDO (shot % + save %) the pair would seem to be in much better shape – just like it’s felt lately.
When Miller-Trouba post average or better results, the Rangers of course benefit, because then they’re not a one pair/one line team. In their 47 games (remember they broke up the pair for two games) they’ve put up a 50% or more expected goal share at 5v5 25 times. The Rangers record split when that happens speaks for itself:
- >50% xGF (25 GP): 16-5-4, 0.720 points %, which would be 3rd in the league as a team
- <50% xGF (22 GP): 10-9-3, 0.523 points %, which would land at 21st in the league.
To wrap things up, I wanted to share the Rangers Game Score leaderboard from Janury to get a sense of who has been effective lately, and to drive home that the Rangers are fine. The Kid Line, despite not being able to recreate it earlier this year, has looked good and the number support that. I’m not thrilled to see Zibanejad where he’s at, but the decision to move Panarin on his left in place of Kreider is just a reminder that the duo have never been able to consistently drive play together. Also, Vinny Trocheck has continued to be consistently above average despite having one of this worst shooting % years of his career.
Overall, I don’t want to wax on too long about the current lines because while I don’t think they make a lot of complementary sense, I also don’t think they’re the long-term solution anyway. We know playing the likes of Vesey or Goodrow in the top six doesn’t produce sustainable success, and while the Kid Line has been good the coaching staff can’t seem to actually play them more – which creates a depth logjam.
Has Kravtsov been good lately? No, but he hasn’t been bad either and he continues to have positive defensive impacts when on the ice. This, to me, screams like a perfect fit for the third line with Trocheck as his center who helps drive offense. Ultimately this hasn’t happened because it would force Barclay Goodrow (or Vesey) to the fourth line. The unnecessary waiver-wire pickup Jake Leschyshyn or Will Cullye would be forced out of the lineup, which has only been tried with Goodrow essentially two times in the past year and a half outside of the playoffs.
The Rangers are fine for now, but calling the team situation actually good (despite the recent record) is still a bit of a stretch for me. There can be better depth decisions made with the lineup card and the team is still relying on top 5-ish goaltending most nights (shoutout to Halak, who bounced back). We know this won’t work long-term. And while we can point to last year and say “wait until the trade deadline” to possibly see the team at its most complete, should we not be asking why we have to wait another month for a possibly better lineup?
Venturing into trying to answer that question inches into some philosophical discussion about the management of the Rangers, so let’s just see how February and the deadline goes. The Rangers are fine, again for now, but we shouldn’t be waiting until the trade deadline to get an idea of how good they actually are.