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A Stiff Drink Called Reality

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The New York Rangers are extremely fortunate to have the record that they have considering how they've played thus far this season.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In the past six games the Blueshirts have a record of a 1-4-1 after winning nine straight games just a few weeks ago. Some fans are pointing to the Rangers' schedule and bemoaning the fact that the club has had to play five games in seven days. The recent brutal schedule certainly hasn't done the Rangers any favors, but it did help to expose just how poorly the Rangers have been playing of late.

Before we move forward, it's important to make note of the fact that every NHL team has tough stretches during the season both in performance and in regards to their scheduling. There are scheduling quirks that every team has to endure during the 82 game regular season. There are tough travel weeks, there are weeks where the circus is in town, and months where a teams play just a few home games. There are also plenty of teams that are less fortunate than the Rangers in regards to their proximity to where the other NHL franchises are located in the league.

Thankfully for the Rangers they play in a division that has at least two awful hockey teams in it: the Carolina Hurricanes and the Philadelphia Flyers. Both the Canes and the Flyers have had a hellish time keeping pucks out of their nets in addition to a serious lack of depth and numerous other issues. The Metropolitan Division also has two teams that have been woefully under-performing and failing to live up to offseason projections and expectations in the star-studded Pittsburgh Penguins and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Against Metropolitan Divison teams the Blueshirts are 8-2-3 thus far this season. Clearly, they have enjoyed and benefited from playing in one of the two divisions in the league that have two teams with just 20 points on the season.


Oh, Cam Ward.

However, the division that the Rangers play in and their schedule isn't the story here.

It might be hard for some fans to believe, especially to those who were convinced of how special this season's team is and could be during that lengthy winning streak, but the New York Rangers have not been playing like a great hockey team because, right now, they aren't a great hockey team.

Category

Statistic

League Rank

Even Strength PDO

104.8

1st

Even Strength CF%

46.0%

27th (tied)

Even Strength Team Sh%

9.7%

1st

Even Strength GF

56

1st

Even Strength GA

32

28th (tied last)

Even Strength Sv%

95.1%

1st

Even Strength Pen Drawn

61

28th

Even Strength Pen Taken

78

8th

PP%

20.3%

10th

PK%

83.7%

7th (tied)

Total SF/GP

27.8

27th

Total SA/GP

31.5

4th

(All metrics from war-on-ice.com)

No team in the league has a higher shooting percentage than the Rangers and no team has had more exceptional and sensational goaltending. The primary reason that New York has won the games it has won this season is Henrik Lundqvist. I know that isn't exactly news to anyone, but that point simply cannot be stressed enough. The Rangers' goaltending has been unbelievably great this season whereas there are countless warts and issues with almost every other aspect of the team.

Jarret Stoll, Dan Girardi, and fan favorite Dominic Moore have had brutal starts to the season based on their flat even strength CF% and represent some of the struggles that individual Rangers have faced. Emerson Etem is also near the bottom of the league in that category, but he has played in less than half of the games that his aforementioned teammates have played in and he has undoubtedly been used and deployed poorly by the Rangers' coaching staff.

Of course, context is important when looking at something like CF% and we shouldn't be shocked to see Stoll and Moore down in the bottom of the league considering how frequently the Rangers start in the defensive zone. At even strength the Rangers' ZSO% (fraction of offensive versus defensive zone starts) is twentieth in the league at 48.7% and Stoll and Moore have a ZSO%Rel (Offensive zone starts versus defensive zone starts, relative) of -50.35 and -49.4 respectively. So, they have both been buried in the defensive zone, which is not to say that they both can't be playing better hockey.

However, when we take a look at those stats and think about how few shots the Rangers generate, how high their PDO is, and how frequently we see them taking defensive zone starts it becomes very hard to explain their current record. There's no escaping it: without Henrik Lundqvist standing on his head this season the Rangers would be in a dramatically different place in the standings right now which has been made abundantly clear in the games where Lundqvist has looked mortal.

Defending Dan Girardi's CF%, on the other hand, is not quite as easy and when it comes to talking and defending his contract and his cap hit of $5.5 million things get downright depressing. Getting deeper into the labyrinth of what having Girardi on the first defensive pair with Ryan McDonagh means for the Rangers is something that should be saved for a separate article that will hopefully be penned by someone who is a great deal more literate in metrics than I am.

Let's get back to talking about the team as a whole and the alarming trends that we've seen develop and establish themselves through the first 27 games of the 2015-16 season. To put it simply the Rangers need to get more pucks on net, find a way to drive possession, generate more scoring chances, and, frankly, play better hockey. Leaning on Lundqvist and Antti Raanta for three periods each and every game and waiting for the other team to cough up the puck and make a mistake that can be capitalized on is not a sustainable formula for winning hockey games.

Hopefully this mystifying start where the Rangers have posted a 17-7-3 record while playing poor to average hockey is just an awkward phase that the Blueshirts will go through this season, but that is a pretty damn big "hopefully".

However, on paper the Rangers are absolutely not a team that should be going 1-4-1 over a six game sample size and in addition to amazing goaltending and the team's record there has been another bit of good news this season. The power play has very quietly been good which is something that perhaps hasn't been talked about much because most Rangers fans probably still don't believe it or know what a good power play looks like. It has also probably not been talked about much because the Rangers draw so few penalties and therefore don't get on the power play very often. From what I hear having the puck in the offensive zone does help with drawing penalties.

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Something on the dry erase board in the locker room has to change and, hopefully, some key players that have been under-performing will start to get things going now that we find ourselves in December and players on the team are asking themselves some tough questions. Two or three months from now we will not be able to say that Oscar Lindberg has a 27.8 shooting percentage and is tied with the rookie lead in goals with Detroit's Dylan Larkin. The Rangers are going to need players like Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller to get going and start producing, especially with Derek Stepan out of the lineup and while Dan Girardi plays 20:24 minutes per game.

We're 27 games into the season now, it's time for the Rangers to start addressing the clear deficiencies in their play and start winning hockey games with some major ingredients that aren't goaltending and luck.

The past six games have not been fun to watch and they have undoubtedly not been fun for the Rangers to play. Hopefully this sudden and uncomfortable introduction to reality will be just what the team and Alain Vigneault needed to start making some adjustments and turning things around. Let's hope it is, because with Stepan out long term this team is being seriously tested.

Thanks for reading. @DigDeepBSB