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Comparing the Rangers Power Play to Last Year's Part 1

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NHL: New York Rangers at Arizona Coyotes Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Last year during the playoffs, I tracked teams’ breakout formations and setups on the power play, writing about the Rangers specifically just a few months ago. Throughout the season this year I’ve been doing something similar and thought I’d post an update about the differences between the Rangers power play from this year and from last year (or at least from last year during the postseason).

Basic Stats

It wasn’t a long time ago that the Rangers power play was routinely mocked, especially after they finished 21st in the league in the 2014-15 season in power-play percentage (only converting on 16.8% of their chances). However, since then their power play has been trending up, being ranked in the top half of the league for the last three seasons in a row. Last year they were ranked 10th overall while this season they’ve climbed all the way up to 6th (converting on 21.3% of their chances). Last year, they scored 47 power play goals (0.573 ppg/g) while this season they’re on pace to score over 57 (a 0.697 ppg/g rate).

In only the postseason from last year, the Rangers converted 7.7% of their chances on the power play and were ranked 15th out of the 16 teams who played in the postseason. With only three power play goals in 12 playoff games, it’s hard to deny that this season the Rangers power play has overall looked more effective and deadlier than last year’s.

Advanced Stats

While I don’t have advanced stats for the entire Rangers season from last year, I still have plenty of data from their playoff run. And after over 20 games of data from this season, there are some interesting trends and changes from the Rangers power play.

Zone Entry Stats

Team Success% Controlled% # of Passes 4 Forward% Drop Pass% Dallas Cut%
Team Success% Controlled% # of Passes 4 Forward% Drop Pass% Dallas Cut%
League Avg. 2016-17 85.90% 64% 1.17 54.80% 29.40% 24.10%
NYR 2016-17 85.90% 68.80% 1.34 86.30% 23.40% 31.30%
NYR 2017-18 78.70% 64.50% 1.15 74.70% 23% 15.80%

Despite the Rangers converting on more chances this year than last year (especially during the postseason), their zone entry numbers are actually worse. Last year during the playoffs, the Rangers were able to successfully enter the zone at the same average rate as the rest of the league while they were above average in entering the zone with control. However, this year, they’ve seen their zone entry success% drop to 78.7% and controlled% to 64.5%. Both of those numbers are significantly lower than they were last year and (while their controlled% is right in line with last year’s league average) their success percentage is significantly lower than the league average from last year.

One possible explanation for this could be the change in personel and tactics. The Rangers power play looks very different with Shattenkirk in the fold and it shows in the deployment and usage. While the Rangers used four forwards 86.3% of the time last year, that number has dropped to 74.7% this season (which is still rather high when compared to the league average though). They’ve also changed up their tactics, opting to use a wider variety of zone entry formations this season. The Rangers have still been using the drop pass just as much as they had been before but have utilized the Canuck Center-Lane Option and Up The Gut formation much more this season in expense of the Dallas Cut Formation. While last year they used the Dallas Cut 31.3% of the time, they’ve only used it 15.8% of the time this year. They never even used the Up The Gut formation during the playoffs last year while they’ve already used it in multiple games this season. It’s hard to say if the change in zone entry formations has led to the lower success rate but there’s no denying that there is a difference in strategy.

Entries by Type

Team Carry% Dump% Pass%
Team Carry% Dump% Pass%
NYR 2016-17 62.50% 17.20% 20.30%
NYR 2017-18 60% 16.10% 23.90%

However, when looking at how the Rangers get the puck over the offensive blueline, not much has changed. This season the Rangers have been carrying the puck slightly less and opting to pass the puck into the zone more often, but the differences between this year and last year are miniscule at best. While I initially thought the Rangers lower controlled% might have been coming from an increased tendency to dump the puck, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Their proportion of times the Rangers dump the puck in the zone is actually slightly lower than last year’s. If anything, the Rangers higher uncontrolled rate seems to be coming from uncontrolled carry in attempts, when the Ranger player attempts to carry the puck into the zone but ends up losing control before he can enter.

One other important aspect I also wanted to touch on was the addition of Shattenkirk to entering the zone. I actually predicted last year that we’d see the Rangers use three forwards more often with Shattenkirk, Ryan McDonagh, and Brady Skjei in the fold and so far we’ve seen exactly that.

“With Shattenkirk, Ryan McDonagh, and Brady Skjei all being excellent puck movers, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Rangers start using three forwards and two defensemen a little more often than they did last year.”

But besides that, this year we’ve seen Shattenkirk become an integral part of the power play, specifically the breakout formation (which he rightfully should be). Out of all possible entries where there was a player registering an entry assist (the player who gives the puck to the player entering the zone), Shattenkirk gained the entry assist 34.4% of the time. For comparison, the second highest player was McDonagh (getting 18% of the entry assists) while Zibanejad was third (getting 9%). Shattenkirk has played an important role in the Rangers zone entry attempts and his addition alone can play a part in the Rangers improved power play.

Originally I was going to do just one post on the Rangers power play (going over stats when they get into the offensive zone too) but that quickly grew very long, so I decided to break it up into two parts. Check back soon for the second installment!