All statistics were current as of 5 PM CST, 4/2/13.
Where should we begin?
Quite a bag of mixed emotions, to start. Overall, the Rangers aren't as bad as their record would indicate, as they currently sit 6th in the entire league in Score-Adjusted Fenwick with a 50/50 shot at the Eastern Conference Playoffs. The problem? This season is a complete crapshoot when it comes to sample size, as it generally takes 40 games to determine true talent level, and then the next 40 the standings start to shape up more as they should. This season, 48 games will go by, and then a team can go ahead and survive/get lucky for two out of four games, and be considered a success. That's how the playoffs always work, but the 2013 playoffs will include a few teams that most likely wouldn't have been there given a full 82 games.
For all my bitching about losing Dubinsky and Anisimov, this team has managed to find a way to control games; which is the reassuring part about if they manage to make the playoffs. So outside of Lundqvist, who I'll touch on in a bit, why is NYR sitting in 8th place with every game being labeled a "must" win game? Their shooting has sucked. And anyone who has stuck around here long enough should know by now: shooting is heavily luck dependent. Let's compare to last season:
Three bads, two washes, and one good. The Rangers are outshooting teams consistently at even strength and giving up a few more shots (more in the Lundqvist section below), but overall cannot buy a goal even it if was on wholesale discount. There is no way to "fix" this, with the exception of time and continuing to shoot at the same rate, something NYR has been doing. If they end up missing the playoffs it will suck, big time, but if they can play at the same level to support Lundqvist having another great season, they'll be just fine in 2013-14. Speaking of Henrik...
I tweeted this link after watching the frustrating loss to Ottawa on last Thursday. Anything above a 0.920 Save% nowadays is considered a solid season, with 0.930 really crossing the threshold to elite. In Lundqvist's seven total season, he has crossed 0.920 five times, and he's on pace for six out of eight this year. In the modern age, this is the best goaltender the New York Rangers have had the privilege to employ as a professional hockey player. His window will start closing soon (which is what pisses me off about this front office), but let's take a look at his current season performance:
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WHAT A SHOCKER. His PK Save% dives back down to where it's been historically, causing him not to post an overall 0.930+ Save%.
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Given the uptick in shots which I alluded to above, Lundqvist has actually been better this season than last, to me - especially at Even Strength. A major reversal in PK Shots Against correlates with his PK Save% in the first chart: everything checks out here, as the PK needs to be better (DUBINSKY EFFECT???).
Finally, let's drill down to the player level.
Thanks to Rob Vollman, us stats people don't have to manually update our teams Usage Charts, as he's got them on his site. NYR's can be viewed here (should work, was having trouble if I let it sit too long while researching).
Bullet points for these:
- Brian Boyle is the only player remotely playing an effective shutdown role. Last year, Dubinsky was right near Boyle, landing between 40-45% Zone starts and a 1.0 Quality of Competition. Dubinsky, despite having horrible luck in the shooting department last season, was still very tough on the opponent.
- Torts still doesn't trust Kreider. I'm ok with it.
- Derek Stepan is proving he can be a 1C, a pleasant surprise given his history. Slats lucks out as the center he signed to play 1C is paired with Gaborik playing 2C minutes.
- Callahan is having a down year. He's officially past the peak age for an NHL player (26/27), so it'll be interesting to see if he can have the "30 bump" as I've seen a lot with players.
- Arron Asham: useless.
- Darrol Powe: slightly less useless.
- Matt Gilroy: second time not a charm.
- Rick Nash: Earning his paycheck (for now), still hasn't seen a full bounce back on his shooting%.
Try not to agonize too much, NYR fans. The Rangers have been going through quite the stretch of poor luck. I know one thing: if NYR sneaks in as an 8 or 6 seed (7 will be up against it with MTL or BOS), I know I'll put at least 20 down on whatever odds Vegas spits out. Worked for the Kings last season, right?
BONUS: Personal Clowe-to-NYR reaction (seeing as it happened mid-writing).
Ryane Clowe is an effective hockey player, proving he can score at every level of his career. He's done it as a two-way player against decent-to-top competition as the pride of Mount Pearl, Newfoundland. In 2012-13 he is having a similar yet different experience that Dubinsky had last season for NYR. Similar in the way they're not scoring, different in the fact that Clowe is still shooting at a good pace (a pace that would give him a career high in shots over 82 GP). If he starts scoring, the media will say the "change of scenery" did it. No, it was luck and positive regression (which, given MSG bounces/ice - maybe it could be the change of scenery). The Sharks have been a very good team for a while now, and Clowe is one of the reasons. Keep shooting the puck, Ryane.