Via the New York Times
The Rangers’ 6-3-2 start to the season has left many Rangers fans teetering on their seat every game. What seemed like a promising start in the season opener against Tampa quickly diminished as the Rangers lost the next four games in a row. Despite winning the past three games versus the Dallas Stars, Arizona Coyotes, and Philadelphia Flyers, the Rangers still struggle to finish their scoring opportunities. So what has happened to our beloved team? It’s actually pretty simple. The key to the Rangers’ success is simply that they need to start scoring. While this seems obvious, let’s take a deeper look.
If we look at the Rangers’ underlying statistics, they don’t seem to be all doom and gloom, which their record reflects. As of November 2nd, the Rangers rank 5th in expected goals percentage, with 56.12% (per moneypuck.com). That’s quite good, and indicates that the Rangers are generating more and better shots than their opponents the majority of the time. Furthermore, the team ranks 5th in Corsi, a statistic that measure the shot attempts for divided by the shot attempts against, for a percentage of 54.6%, furthering the evidence that the Rangers are playing well.
With a high Corsi percentage and a high expected goals percentage, it seems logical to assume the Rangers would be scoring at rates that match these high numbers. A roster loaded with Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, and Chris Kreider has the talent to score consistently. That has not exactly gone to plan, as the Rangers’ actual goals percentage is 47.5%, good for 12th worst in the NHL. The sub-50% statistic means the Rangers are allowing more goals than they are scoring, something they need to improve on. Furthermore, in their first four games, the Rangers were lethal on the power-play, however since then, the team has gone quite lethargic. A change in special teams strategy may be needed, as the PP runs primarily through Zibanejad’s well-documented lethal one-timer. But the power-play is only a small percentage of the game, so what other problems do we have to look at?
What’s the Problem?
There are some important factors to look for in order to diagnose what is wrong with the Rangers’ current lineup. Let’s begin with the goalies, as we know backup Jaroslav Halak has been shaky, to say the least. He ranks 12th worst in goals saved above expected, with a -3.1 GSAx. This lines up with the Rangers’ dismal goals percentage, so maybe there’s a problem with the Rangers’ goaltending. While this is a valid concern, it may be misplaced. The Rangers starter, Igor Shesterkin, ranks 9th best in the NHL in goals saved above expected, with a 5.3 GSAx, which more than negates Halak’s poor start.
It seems as though the Rangers might have the common cold of the NHL: being unlucky. To validate this, let’s look at where they rank amongst teams in a couple statistics. In goals for above expected, a statistic measuring whether or not a team or player is scoring on more chances than expected, the Rangers rank 31st in the league, just below the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs. That is one unlucky team!
Running into consistent hot goaltenders such as the Flyer’s Carter Hart, who posted a whopping 3.61 GSAx in the Rangers 1-0 OT win last night will continue to cement that the Rangers are either unlucky, or are running into streaky goalies. Continuing along these lines, the Rangers rank 29th in shooting percentage on all attempts. This conveys that they are well below league average in converting their scoring chances, again indicating that New York has struggled to put the puck in the net despite getting chances all over the ice.
A few final elements that highlight the Rangers’ streak of bad luck are the individual player statistics. Chris Kreider, who scored 52 goals last season, has -4.4 goals above expected, making him the unluckiest player on the team and the unluckiest player in the NHL. Despite being horrendously snakebit, he still ranks 1st in the league in expected goals, indicating that Kreider is getting chances and playing well. Scoring 52 goals last season may have caused teams accross the league to look closer at his game, and even though he is still getting chances, they may have finally figured him out. Among the snakebitten players on the Rangers roster is Alexis Lafrenière, who has -2.1 goals above expected. Despite his unlucky streak, which included hitting a post versus the Flyers on Tuesday, he still is getting amazing chances, and the former 1st overall pick has the skill to put the puck in the net. The Rangers are playing well; they just don’t have the goals to back them up. But as the underlying statistics show, the goals are bound to come.
With the Rangers winning their last three, it seems as though their struggles may be behind them. While the team is still having struggles finishing, their play has only gotten better over their last three wins against the Stars, Coyotes, and Flyers. If there is one thing Rangers should not do, it is worry. This team is playing their best hockey they have in years, and the statistics are proving it.
Unfortunately for New York though, their next opponent is a lot better than the Coyotes and Flyers. The 9-1 Boston Bruins are coming into New York tomorrow, and they have won their last six games. Despite playing the league’s best team, the Rangers should be more than capable of keeping up with the revamped Bruins roster. Only time will tell as the Rangers play them at home at 7:30 PM EST on Thursday.