The “good ol’ hockey boys” group have already had a difficult week. With news of Florida firing their head coach in a very bizarre fashion, many of the old school MSM threw a nice little fit about the stat boys, computer modules and how analytics are for geeks.
A few weeks ago I got into a little tiff with an unnamed NHL reporter about the New York Rangers. The comment to me was essentially “stop criticizing, the Rangers are winning and you don’t know more than the coach.”
That seems to be the argument that comes from all the stat attackers: “You’re smarter than the coach?” “The Rangers are winning just enjoy the win.” “You’ve obviously never played the game.”
This ignored the months and months of warning lights we flashed about the team last year — even when the Rangers were dominating -- and ended up being right. But, you know, those guys don’t look at the stats they watch the game so they probably didn’t even realize it.
For weeks we’ve argued the Rangers offense was hiding a monster lurking below the surface. The past five podcasts have all had segments of varying length on whether or not the Rangers can sustain this level of play. I mean, we knew the Rangers wouldn’t be able to sustain four goals a game, but we didn’t really know how things would shake out.
Here’s a few undeniable truths about this team:
- The Rangers are tied for second in the NHL with 31 points.
- The Rangers are firmly atop the offense mountain right now -- with their 85 goals for a whole 13 goals better than the next best team (Philadelphia).
- The Rangers +28 goal differential is nine goals higher than the second place team (Montreal).
All of that is very true. As is all of this:
- The Rangers have yet to win a game where they’ve scored less than three goals.
- The Rangers record when scoring three goals or less is 3-7-1
- The Rangers record when scoring under three goals is 0-7
To put that in perspective, last year’s team went 22-28-3 in games where they scored three goals or less. The current team’s pace is (roughly) a 12-28-4 record when scoring three goals or less.
The good news? The Rangers offense has been crazy so far this year, scoring at levels we’ve never seen before. The bad news? More often than not the playoffs is a much tighter game than the regular season is, with far less open, run-and-gun contents.
The other bad news? Well, other teams seem to be figuring out the Rangers attack strategy. Because the Rangers inability to move the puck up on defense, other teams have taken to clogging the neutral zone and/or running a full 1-3-1 trap. Teams who watch any type of film are also aware the Rangers love to do a drop pass to break into the zone with speed, so breaking that up helps.
The result? The Rangers have gotten hammered in possession metrics since really the start of the Canada road trip. I warned that this team was slowly showing signs of last year’s group — big shooting percentage, relying on the goalie to do the heavy lifting and not playing a possession game — and that seems to be coming to a head.
Adam mentioned after the Rangers loss to Ottawa that the Rangers are third from the bottom in possession in the month of November.
Here is a list of teams who have been worse than NYR in shot attempts since November 1st.— Adam Herman (@AdamZHerman) November 28, 2016
New York Islanders
The Rangers rolling possession (stick salute of Corsica) proves this has been a trend.
That chart is rolling from the start of the season until the Rangers loss to Ottawa. Some of the lower possession metrics in the beginning (October) can be forgiven because the Rangers were scoring five goals a game. The more recent figures are somewhat alarming, though, because the Rangers aren’t winning game by wide margins and they’re still seeing possession dips.
The one shining light? The Rangers scoring chance percentage has seen an uptick from the start of the year.
Some of this has to do with the fact the Rangers really weren’t winning the scoring chance battles in the beginning of the year -- again, forgiven because they were up by so much. But this is a little bit of a glimmer that this team might simply run hot and cold on possession and still get the job done. Right now the Rangers are hovering around 53% in scoring chances for, which is good for 8th in the league.
The Rangers are also running with the highest PDO clip in the NHL. We saw this a lot last year at the start of the year especially. Here’s the Rangers rolling PDO average inclusive of all of last year and this year.
The left is last year’s entire season (playoffs not included). The Rangers started at insane levels we knew they’d never ever sustain (this linked story by Mike was written 11/17/15) and eventually fell off a cliff.
There is an argument to be made that the Rangers with this offense will always shoot hot because of their speed/odd man rushes, coupled with Henrik Lunqvist’s elite status that literally spells “higher than average PDO.” The timing of this year’s jump, however, says a lot.
The PDO jumping in November as the Rangers’ possession was beginning to dwindle makes sense, since that was when the Rangers started losing possession but still winning games.
Where the Rangers will finish in terms of PDO remains to be seen. And honestly, I’m not sure it’s the best litmus test in the world unless the figures are total extremes. There hasn’t been a true offensive build like the Rangers in recent memory, and trying to figure where the team’s PDO should finish is difficult to do.
The defense is a whole other issue. The defense has been hidden by this offense, but some trends are starting to become apparent. Here’s a quick look at the defense and their possession/scoring chance for percentages.
Dan Girardi - 41% possession, 51% SCF% (+2 differential)
Marc Staal - 46% possession, 52% SCF% (+7 differential)
Nick Holden - 46% possession, 54% SCF% (+11 differential)
Brady Skjei - 46% possession, 45% SCF% (-10 differential)
Kevin Klein - 46% possession, 52% SCF% (+5 differential)
Ryan McDonagh - 50% possession, 60% SCF% (+26% differential)
Adam Clendening - 63% possession, 64% SCF% (+7 differential)
This tells a pretty consistent tale. Outside of Skjei, every defenseman on the team has a positive scoring chance for differential, to varying degrees. Most of that is due to the Rangers offense. Remember, the team has an average of a 53% SCF, so anything below that is below the average.
Girardi is clearly backing up the bus with possession, and isn’t very far from a negative scoring change differential, either. Some of that has to do with a declining level of play since a solid start to the year, and others has to do with him getting top pairing minutes again. Klein has been a noticeable problem, and Skjei has had his moments, too.
Clendening, meanwhile, rots in the press box while problematic defenseman continue to get chance after chance. It’s a problem, but not a new one.
Overall, there’s no need to slam the fire alarm, but there’s certainly concerns about this team that are surfacing. Will this year be similar to last year? Probably not, but it might be closer than we think.