It’s been just 5 games, but the vibes are unmatched and the Rangers are playing their best hockey since 2013-2014. They have a dominating hold on high danger chances, the stat that really matters when it comes to offensive and defensive efficiency. All seems good with the Rangers, but we certainly have some questions. Not everyone is producing to some expectations.
The first player folks seem to gravitate towards is Blake Wheeler, who has been short shifted and/or benched in the third period a few times already. He was the “highlight” of the offseason, and yet there are some questions about whether the signing will work.
The concerns with Blake Wheeler are two fold. Firstly, he’s seen his ice time decreased significantly in the third period in a few games. Second, he doesn’t have any points in his 5 games. While he doesn’t have any points, his line with Vincent Trocheck and Will Cuylle is doing an excellent job at even strength.
This trio at 5v5 has simply outstanding metrics with some poor luck (Per Natural Stat Trick).
- CF/60: 55.34
- CA/60: 43.48
- CF%: 56%
- xGF/60: 3.01
- xGA/60: 1.34
- xG%: 69.23%
- HDCF/60: 9.22
- HDCA/60: 5.27
- HDCF%: 63.34%
So if this line is dominating, why can’t they score at even strength? They have no goals at 5v5, and that seems to be the sticking point. They simply haven’t been able to put the puck in the net just yet. Those goals will come. There’s too much talent on that line to continue shooting 0%.
For what it’s worth, the line stays pretty solid without Wheeler (just 12 min TOI without him). Their quality for and against drops, but the quantity and time in the offensive zone increases a bit. Both are negligible and subject to statistical noise since it’s just 12 minutes.
So should we be worrying about Blake Wheeler?
The short answer is no. The numbers are there. While the line doesn’t have a goal at 5v5 yet, that will change. As the Rangers third line, this is less of a concern since the top two lines have been carrying their weight thus far. It’s only been five games, and the possession numbers show they are controlling play. The goals will come.
As for Wheeler himself, he’s not exactly the best defensive player, which is likely why he’s getting the short bench treatment late in games. He hasn’t been a solid defensive player in some time either, so that won’t change. This is an example of the Peter Laviolette effect. The Rangers protect leads by switching to a more conservative 1-3-1 while also managing personnel properly to maintain the lead.
There’s nothing wrong with Blake Wheeler’s play or usage. At least not yet. Perhaps we are so used to seeing four lines run without a care for the scoreboard that we still need time to adjust to a coach that actually pays attention to game scenarios. Laviolette’s strengths were in-game adjustments, and we are seeing it play out. Not just with tactics, but with personnel. Wheeler is one of those adjustments.