After a blistering hot start in October, another month on the calendar is gone on the 2016-17 hockey campaign and the Rangers remain in first place in the Metro by 4 points, with Pittsburgh having two games in hand. They earned 21 out of a possible 30 points on the schedule (10-4-1).
Here’s how they stack up against the rest of the league after 24 games played:
- 1st in Goals For
- This stat remains from October, the Rangers are still scoring at a pretty decent clip (3.65 per game) but the pace has begun to slow. Teams are figuring out the 1-3-1 zone is the best tool to stop the Rangers’ break out passes and offense has become tougher to come by. The coaching staff will need to adjust the game-plan or they’re in for a tumble in the standings; not unlike last season.
- Last month the fourth line was as dangerous as the first line. This month, not so much. Most of that is due to injury, first Kreider, then Buch, now Zibanejad. It’s a good thing Gorton did go out and get an over-abundance of forwards this off-season. But honestly, paging Brandon Pirri, where have you gone?
- They still lead the league in shooting percentage (12.8) and I expect that to drop off as the season keeps going on. The more concerning part is that they’re not putting enough rubber on the opposing net to balance out the expected drop and maintain their scoring pace.
- 13th in Goals Against
- In reality their goal against average is 12th in the league, but because they had a packed schedule this month, it’s a drop-off of only one spot from October.
- While that may not be that concerning at first glance, it should be. Hank’s save percentage has gone up to .916 (.925 for the month!) but they’re not getting any better at limiting goals. That tells me they’re giving up more shots on goal this month.
- The goal-tending is not the problem, the leaky defense is. Nobody is strong enough in the corners to win puck battles or in front to clear out the line of sight, how many goals this month have come off of tip ins and deflections??
- On top of that, opposing teams are also now poaching the breakout passes from the D and turning it into high percentage chances. Either actual talent needs to be brought in to make this transition game work or the game plan has to change. Giving up those chances in the playoffs will be the undoing of this team.
- The Rangers went to their first shootout this month, where they promptly went 0/2 on the offensive side and 0/2 on the defensive side. Remember when Hank was other-worldly when it came to the shootout? Maybe that’s why it’s so frustrating seeing him be average at it these days.
- 9th in Power Play %
- While the percentage has dropped ever so slightly for the year (15/70, for 21%) they’ve moved up in rank because those teams that rode hot streaks are beginning to settle.
- It’s beginning to look a little predictable out there, they’ve been banking on that cross-ice pass from dot to dot for high percentage looks, teams are starting to clog that play, they need to adjust and start getting some shots through from the point, and actually have people in front get free to cash in on rebounds. Too many times shots are either catching the boards or swept out by the opposing team. The truly great power-plays score those second chance “garbage” goals.
- Because I still have this burned into my head so I’m posting it again: Anyone here remember the last time the Rangers had a Power Play on the north side of 20% for an entire season? It was 1999. Yeah, ouch. I can’t help but have that cloud in the back of my head that feels like raining on this one, I expect a regression at some point during the season. Even if it is unfairly gleaned by the play of this group so far this year.
- 6th in Penalty Kill %
- They sat at 80% (20/25) in October and they got better: 85% (53/62) overall. The philosophy is still to stay out of the box (now second in the league in that category). The penalty kill is looking much more structured, much more focused at just keeping the chances way back and making sure Hank has a chance to see the puck. Only giving up 4 goals on 37 opportunities this month, I’d say they’re doing a pretty good job.
- On top of just being better structurally, there were a few shorthanded goals as well this month! They’re 2nd in the league with three goals while down a man.
- 18th in Face Off %
- To re-iterate: We often say that face-offs are almost a useless stat, (much like +/- ) but when it comes down to needing to win a draw in the last minute of a game in the playoffs, you need someone you can trust to get you possession. In the past it was Brian Boyle, of fourth line glory, having to scurry off the ice right after the draw was won.
- There’s been a sharp decline in the effectiveness in the dot, and that comes both from facing better competition this month (Crosby, Giroux, Sedin) and losing their best face-off presence in Zibenejad. The number has plummeted to just 49% and will continue to fall until Z gets back into the lineup.
- Fancy Stats
- Kevin Hayes and JT Miller are leading the team in points. Remember everyone wanting to trade these “bums” out of town over the past few years? Youth takes patience to develop, adjust to the NHL, and find consistency. We saw flashes of it, now it’s beginning to level off into two very good young players that can provide effective production compared to their cap investment for the next few years.
- While the team’s shooting percentage remains at a very high, unsustainable, clip. Many wonder how the Rangers are doing it and how they manage all these high percentage shots. The key is good passing and just not having your shots get blocked. They have six players that see more than 60% of their shots actually go on target. That’s a big help to inflating shooting percentage and goal scoring numbers.
- Know which forwards lead the team in defensive zone starts? Jesper Fast, he’s sound defensively, surprisingly only a -0.5 in Corsi Relative (chances for vs. chances against) starting in his own end nearly 70%!!!!! of the time. That’s quite a feat considering nobody else on his line comes close to those percentages. The other leading defensive start leader (65%)? He’s the one whom leads the team in scoring.
- Team leaders in Corsi are exactly who you still expect them to be: Kreider, Zibenejad, Buch, Zucc.
- Know the defense-man that leads the team in possession (that doesn’t sit in the press box)? You’d guess either McD or Skjei going off of just watching the games. And you’d be wrong. It’s Kevin Klein. Yes, the Kevin Klein whom everyone has started murmuring to get his bags packed and leave town while he’s still valuable. He still starts most of his shifts (55%) in the defensive zone too. Know who sits at the bottom of the defense in possession? You didn’t need more than one guess here: Dan Girardi.
- Listen, if we judge Girardi by his possession & shot stats, we’re going to be left wanting, that’s just not who he is and there’s enough evidence year in-year out that we need to accept that. I think a better judge of his talents is his PDO (shooting % + sv % while on the ice at even strength) and you know what, he sits 3rd on the team behind Grabner and Hayes. Mostly because of their ridiculous shooting % stats; but Rangers goalies are stopping 95% of the shots against them with G on the ice. Next best are Holden, Staal, and Skjei at 92%, McD at 91%. He’s clearly doing something right in his own end to help his goalies out, even if he isn’t effective at winning back possession of the puck.
So the 2nd month is in the books and the dust is beginning to settle. The season is almost a third of the way over and the Rangers have solidified themselves in the offensive end. The defense remains to be seen how they hold up. What happens when a big physical team starts beating on them over a 7 game series, will they still have the legs and composure to make those breakout passes that make the team concept work?