The Conceptions (and Misconceptions) About NHL Goal Scoring

Alain Vigneault plans to push the pace with the Rangers' gameplan. - Christian Petersen

There is no exact science on how to win a Stanley Cup.

John Tortorella's tenure in New York ended this summer when the team decided to let its former head coach go after he spent four-plus seasons behind the Rangers' bench. His stint was marked by making the playoffs in four out of five seasons, including two trips out of the first round, and a conference finals appearance. The Tortorella regime was without one major achievement: A Stanley Cup.

The exact reasoning behind Tortorella's dismissal can be debated; a shaky media relationship, a loss of the locker room, and an ineffective system were all theories. Regardless, when the team decided to bring in Alain Vigneault, it definitively meant one thing: The identity of the Rangers would soon be changing. Vigneault, who had spent his last seven NHL seasons as the head coach in Vancouver, brought with him the coaching prowess that made the Canucks a top-10 offense in the league four of his seven seasons, including three seasons in the top five, and the league's most potent offense in 2011 when it made the Stanley Cup Finals.

The knock on Tortorella's Rangers had always been their inability to produce offensively. Anchored by one of the league's best goaltenders in Henrik Lundqvist, and a strong defensive core, many asked if the team's scoring could ever lead it to the top of the league.

But the question many people should have been asking instead was, how did this "anemic" offense stack up against the rest of the league.

Stanley Cup Winner Runner-Up East 2nd Place West 2nd Place

2013

Chicago Boston Pittsburgh Los Angeles NYR
RS G/G 3.1 2.65 3.38 2.73 2.62
RS PP% 16.7 14.8 24.7 19.9 15.7
PS G/G 2.78 2.96 3.27 2.06 2.33
PS PP% 11.4 17.5 21.3 17.3 9.1

2012

Los Angeles New Jersey NYR Phoenix
RS G/G 2.29 2.63 2.71 2.56
RS PP% 17.0 17.2 15.7 13.6
PS G/G 2.85 2.46 2.15 2.31
PS PP% 12.8 15.3 17.8 14.0

2011

Boston Vancouver Tampa Bay San Jose NYR
RS G/G 2.98 3.15 2.94 2.96 2.73
RS PP% 16.2 24.3 20.5 23.5 16.9
PS G/G 3.24 2.32 3.28 3.22 1.6
PS PP% 11.4 20.4 25.4 19.2 5.0

2010

Chicago Philadelphia Montreal San Jose NYR
RS G/G 3.2 2.83 2.56 3.13 2.61
RS PP% 17.7 21.4 21.8 21.0 18.3
PS G/G 3.54 3.3 2.42 2.73 DNQ
PS PP% 22.5 21.9 16.4 19.7 DNQ

Key: RS G/G = Regular Season Goals Per Game; RS PP% = Regular Season Power Play Percentage; PS G/G = Postseason Goals Per Game; PS PP% = Postseason Power Play Percentage; DNQ = Did Not Qualify

This is a whole bunch of numbers, but what do you they all mean? I like to begin in 2012, the year the Rangers finished first in the Eastern Conference and were two wins away from reaching the finals. The team's regular season scoring output was the highest out of the final four of that year's playoffs, but the Rangers' power play percentage was the lowest in any year of this sample. The Rangers "lack of offense" can really be trimmed down to a power play issue.

What the overall variance in the above numbers show you is that there is no "bare minimum" for a team's offense that equates to winning a Stanley Cup. The Rangers real problem in 2012 was the complete 180 it did in the playoffs, which really has created a perception the offense is broken.

So what exactly happened? There were certainly a number of factors that contributed to the Rangers offensive shutdown. Marian Gaborik, the team's top scorer during the regular season, who registered over 18 percent of the team's total regular season goals, was nursing an injured shoulder, and was rendered ineffective, with his goal per game click literally falling in half.

Interestingly enough, the power play was "good enough" that postseason to not be a hindrance; in fact, it was the highest among those final four teams. The team just wasn't scoring enough, period, to finish the job.

Here's really what I'm getting at. These are a bunch of disjointed statistics in a grander scheme. There is no exact science on how to win a Stanley Cup when it comes to a team's offensive output. Each of the last four Stanley Cup champions had a pretty wide range of goals scored—the only important thing is, you can't completely bottom-out. (Again, see the Rangers 2012 playoffs hiccup.)

The Rangers brass certainly felt the team could benefit from the services of another top-tier scoring forward, and did so by acquiring Rick Nash after losing to the Devils in the 2012 playoffs. With Vigneault at the helm, conventional wisdom says the Rangers will be a "more offensively minded" group. But what it really might come down to is whether or not the Rangers can sustain the offensive success they have achieved in stretches more consistently. Bolstering the power play certainly helps in that regard, as those opportunities are vital to any team's production.

The only above team that saw a dip in its postseason goals per game and won a Stanley Cup was Chicago. In 2012, the Rangers scored over a half goal less in the playoffs. The Vigneault-led Rangers will go through some growing pains in the first portion of the season, with injuries and a new system two things they will have to adjust to.

They key will be, when the team does figure out AV's structure, and puts everything together, can it do it on a consistent basis?

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