I freely admit the Rangers dreaded West Coast swing is hard for me. My normal bedtime is around 10:30 so I can wake up for work the next morning without falling asleep at the wheel of my car on the way to the train. (Tony's friendship has obviously had an adverse impact on me.) Sometimes I catch a period during the swing's later games. Sometimes I miss everything. Last night I caught the first 10 minutes of the period and then I went to bed. I watched some extended highlights this morning, but not enough to write a notes article on. So instead enjoy this article that will reference last night's game briefly!
The terminology the stats people will use about a game like last night is "trust the process more than the result." Basically they're saying: If you play like that again you'll probably win the game.
At even strength last night the Rangers dominated possession (47-31), scoring chances (28-15) and high-danger scoring chances (13-7). The Rangers lost 2-1 because A) their offense couldn't generate anything, and B) the Rangers power play finally let them down (0-for-4). And C) the officiating seemed like it was sort of a joke.
Since December the Rangers have been better in terms of "the process." How much better. Well:
Since December 1st, the NY Rangers have actually been the 7th best 5v5 CF% team in the league (53.1%). 4th best in all-scenario CF% (55.3%).— HockeyStatMiner (@HockeyStatMiner) December 10, 2015
Those are pretty positive jumps for a team that couldn't find its way out of the possession cellar with a map and a flashlight a few weeks ago.
I can, however, already see the anti-stats crowd standing up and yelling about how they don't mean anything. Why? Because the stats above tell you the Rangers have been better in December, but the standings will show you that they're 1-2-1 in that span. This is why the process is so important. Sometimes the play doesn't match up with the result right away. Which is why stats are so important: They tell you what to expect from a team's level of play.
Lundqvist, for as good as he's been, will not be able to keep up this pace. The Rangers will not keep scoring on so few shots and when both of those things regress the sky will fall. Hell, the Rangers have been so lucky that they may actually play better and still lose a lot of games. That's how far into this territory they've ventured.
The reason why the above should resonate with you is not because advanced stats predict the future. They really don't because hockey isn't played in an excel spreadsheet and the human variable is impossible to predict. What they do is allow you to road map likely outcomes based off a team's play. You should know Lundqvist can't sustain a .944 SV%. You should know a hockey team can't keep shooting 15-25% per game. You should know those numbers will fall back down to the norm eventually and have adverse effects. Advanced stats help show you that.
Being prepared for those drop offs is a big part of being a head coach. Alain Vigneault has done something right the past 10 days because the Rangers have played a lot better even if the results haven't gone in their favor. Now he needs to adjust to the team finally running cold on offense.
The concern, at this point, should be Mats Zuccarello's current cold spell (one goal and one point in nine games), Chris Kreider's continued struggles and the lack of consistent scoring from the top six (and in some cases the top nine). Rick Nash, Derick Brassard, Kevin Hayes and Derek Stepan included. Those problems usually sort themselves out with good play (read: more puck possession) but it could take some time for things to even out since the Rangers shot with such a hot hand to start the year.
It also doesn't help that Vigneault is stamping Emerson Etem to the bench -- a better offensive option than Tanner Glass (who has been good since his callup) or Jarret Stoll. Right now the Rangers are relying on their power play to do a lot of their heavy lifting, which is fine so long as it keeps clicking. It didn't in Vancouver and the Rangers lost because they couldn't find another way to generate offense.
Those problems tend to sort themselves out. Just like Lundqvist's save percentage and the Rangers shooting percentage couldn't stay that high forever, Zuccarello can't stay this cold forever. Neither can the Rangers even strength shooting percentage the past few weeks.
Adjusting the lineup, though, can help. In a game where the Rangers badly out-possessed the opposition Dan Girardi was a -2 in shot differential despite getting 57% offensive zone starts. He also generously provided a brilliant screen of his own goaltender for a Vancouver goal. Ryan McDonagh (partnered with him) was a -4 with 61% offensive zone starts. These problems need to be rectified sooner rather than later. Dylan McIlrath was a +21 with 66% defensive zone starts last night. And he'll probably sit for Dan Boyle (penalty shot goal, -1 in shot differential with 50% offensive zone starts) when Kevin Klein gets back.
Those things have to change next.
At least the overall level of play has gotten better.