Most nights hockey teams live and die by how they play at even strength. And that's why possession numbers hold as much as weight as they do. They inform us of patterns in play for both individuals and teams.
Despite the Rangers' 31-17-1 record they are not necessarily a strong team during five-on-five hockey. Which is somewhat surprising because only three teams have more even strength goals than the Blueshirts do this season.
Of course, measuring even strength performance by goals for vs. goals against doesn't tell us the whole story. The Rangers have the third-highest team shooting percentage at evens (9.72%). Unsurprisingly the Rangers' peers in GF60 (goals for per sixty minutes) at even strength also have high shooting percentages.
Teams with lots of goals at even strength have high shooting percentages. Fascinating stuff.
But unlike their peers in ES GF60, the Rangers are well below the league average in CF60 (corsi events for per sixty minutes). Which means that they are either very fortunate, or better at generating high quality scoring chances than they are at large quantities of scoring chances or a bit of both.
The Rangers also bleed shots at even strength. Actually, they bleed a lot of shots. In fact, the Blueshirts, on average, operate in the red in possession.
That poor possession play and the well-documented struggles of Henrik Lundqvist are why the Rangers' peers in even strength goals against this season are who they are. And no, they are not desirable peers.
Take that, St. Louis.
The Rangers are 14th in the league in SA60 at evens, which obviously isn't awful, but they are dragged down by being 24th in CA60. The Rangers are spending far too much time in their own zone. And we can infer this from the fact that the Rangers allow far too many shot attempts when compared to the rest of the league.
Before you get excited, the Penguins average 7.3 more corsi events per game than the Rangers do at even strength. They also have five more even strength goals than New York despite playing in one less game. Yep, their offense is even scarier than the Rangers' offense. So, their style of play is more "wide open" and the Rangers is more "endure and hope to exploit" (also known as waiting for Grabner to do a Grabner).
The Rangers have the fifth-best CF60 (corsi for per sixty minutes) at even strength in the league. So they're getting plenty of looks at the net in the offensive zone at evens. New York's deep, dangerous group of forwards have helped to conceal the team's larger possession woes.
(note: Puempel's numbers include his time with Ottawa.)
Yes, Chris Kreider has been quite good at the hockey this year.
The Rangers' defense, on the other hand... well, let's just look at the numbers.
We really don't celebrate just how good Brady Skjei has been in his rookie season often enough.
It doesn't really need to be said that the Rangers' defense, as a group, isn't contributing much to the team's offense at evens. The optics and counting stats from the first half of the season make that abundantly clear. Well, outside of the contributions of Nick Holden, Destroyer of Worlds.
Lundqvist was not good enough in the first half of the season. Everyone knows that. But the Rangers' defense also hasn't been good enough. And, unlike Lundqvist, there is not much reason to expect the play of the defense (as a whole) to improve. Especially if Adam Clendening returns to being the team's seventh defensemen.
New York's defense just isn't good enough. And now it seems like pretty much everyone knows it.
"If defensemen Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein continue to struggle, general manager Jeff Gorton likely will do everything he can to get help for his blue line before the trade deadline." NHL.com
So, to summarize, the Rangers score plenty of even strength goals, but they also allow plenty of goals at even strength. That margin (also known as GF%) is starting to get a little too close to comfort now that the Rangers' PDO is starting to come back down to earth.
The Rangers are 11th in the league (52.5) at GF% at even strength. But they have a significantly higher team shooting percentage than their closest peers. This is a problem. But if Lundqvist's play continues to roll in the right direction, it probably isn't a big one.
Which is an unceremonious way of saying "everything will be alright if Lundqvist goes back to stealing games like he does in the second half of every season in recent memory."
The Rangers have a +10 goal differential at 5v5. Washington has +50, Columbus +24, Pittsburgh +23, Isles +12, New Jersey -18 and Philly -22.— (@DigDeepBSB) January 27, 2017
The Rangers' even strength offense is undoubtedly good. In fact, it's great. But the defense and the team's overall play during five-on-five hockey leaves much to be desired.
Of course, this has as much to do with systems and decisions made off the ice as it does with the lineup. But that doesn't change the numbers don't lie. The Rangers, despite all of their goal scoring, are not a very good even strength hockey team.