The below are the three questions I asked about the Rangers in the SB Nation NHL Preview and are followed by my answers. Enjoy.
1. How can the Rangers solve their power play issues?
This is a big enough question mark that I included it as a team weakness in the SB Nation NHL Preview. Power play consistency has always been a problem for the Rangers, but with the recent string of successful seasons the power play failures are reaching something of a tipping point.
Last year in the regular season the Rangers' power play sported a cool 16.8% conversion rate, good for 21st in the NHL. Those numbers jumped to a 21% conversion rate in the playoffs, but the power play was very hot and cold. Look at the below numbers by series:
@BlueshirtBanter Looks like they went 3-20 against PIT, 3-18 against WSH, and 7-24 against TBL— Ryan Ohanesian (@ryanohan) September 30, 2015
The power plan ran hot and cold against the Penguins and Washington Capitals before finding some footing against the Tampa Bay Lighting. In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final the power play went 0-for-2 as the Rangers got shut out for the second consecutive home game. Bad news bears all around.
To be fair, injuries did play a pretty big role in the power play failures in the playoffs. Mats Zuccarello's concussion and Keith Yandle's shoulder injury both happened early in the postseason and were both massive blows to the team's overall offensive weapons. Dan Boyle never really got his footing last year, and both Derick Brassard and Rick Nash seemed to have some trouble adjusting to the loss of Zuccarello.
The hope this year is health, to be honest. A healthy Boyle and Yandle should give the Rangers a true one-two punch at the point even if they're separated. Ryan McDonagh could also see some power play time if needed as well.
Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller and even Viktor Stalberg could see bigger offensive roles this year, adding some fire-power to last year's units. Both Hayes and Miller saw some power play time last year but are due for a massive upgrade, especially since Martin St. Louis' nearly three minutes of PP time a game need to be made up.
Mix in a little more youth and two healthy (true) power play quarterbacks -- including the elite Yandle -- and I think there is a recipe for success there for next year.
2. Is the Rangers defense good enough to contend for a Stanley Cup?
This is the big one, no?
It's sort of a two-sided question, though. There is a difference between "is this defense good enough to get to a Stanley Cup" and "is this the six ideal players to get a team to the Stanley Cup." The answer to the latter is no, but I really do think the answer to the former is yes -- mainly because of Henrik Lundqvist .
Let's be frank here for a moment, having the best goaltender in the world on your team is a massive edge in a couple of different categories. But it also masks certain problems to make it seem like they're not really a big deal.
This is why possession statistics are so important. Making the claim that a defense is able to shut down top players when it matters is only partly true. If Lundqvist needs to make a herculean effort to do so -- which means said defense is allowing opposing teams to get high quality chances -- then the defense isn't really doing its job, it's just being saved by an elite goaltender.
That does seem to be the case for Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein. I've always maintained Marc Staal is a better defenseman than his raw possession numbers but he fits into this category a little, as well.
Yes, I do think the Rangers defense is able to get this team to a Stanley Cup the way they're current structured, but Lundqvist plays a big role in this which is a problem.
3. Which kid is expected to take the biggest leap this year?
J.T. Miller - I've been banging the Miller drum for years, now, and I really think last year's opportunity (albeit a short one) to enter the top six in the Eastern Conference Final is the beginning of what's to come with Miller. He took some serious strides last year once Alain Vigneault stopped jerking him around.
He adds a real offensive punch, brings physicality to his game and seems poised to leap off last year's stepping stone to do bigger and better things this year.
Hayes - The only reason Hayes isn't the winner is because Miller has a lower bar set for past performances. But that doesn't mean Hayes isn't expected to have a big impact this year.
Of his 45 points last year 42 of them were primary points -- a staggering 93%. (Primary points are either goals or primary assists). That means Hayes was not only producing offense, but creating his own offense. That's an enormous difference from riding a quality veteran player's coattails and doing it yourself.
I do expect Hayes to take a big jump this year but the ever-present "sophomore slump" is always hanging in the balance. Still, Hayes seems like one of those special players that will grow and continue to break the barriers most normal rookies and sophomores hit in the NHL.
Thoughts on these, guys?