A lucky fourth line isn’t enough to mask a dismal December

The Rangers are 6-3-2 in December, but that has more to do with Lundqvist and good luck than solid team play.

Thus far in the month of December the New York Rangers have received quite a bit of depth scoring from the fourth line. We all know that good teams thrive off of depth scoring, but that isn’t what’s happening here.

The Rangers, as a whole, have been struggling in December. A record of 5-3-2 in the past ten games hardly tells the story of what head coach Alain Vigneault’s team has been playing like. The Blueshirts have been carried by some outstanding play by Henrik Lundqvist and what appears to be quite a lot of good luck.

In the Rangers last 11 games seven players have scored three or more goals. Jimmy Vesey, Paul Carey, and Jesper Fast are three of those forwards. Collectively Boo Nieves, David Desharnais, Vesey, Carey, and Fast are shooting 19.3 percent in December. If that number wasn’t enough to convince you that the Rangers have been lucky as of late, consider the fact that Brady Skjei’s 98.3 PDO (5v5) is the lowest on the team in December.

Why is this worth mentioning? Because the Rangers have been wearing the emperor’s new clothes for much of the 2017-18 season. The recent inflated production from the fourth line has done little more than keep the team from crashing in the standings. Although the Rangers are currently in a Wild Card spot, things are trending in the wrong direction.

If the last 11 games have taught us anything, they’ve taught us that the Rangers have been unusually lucky. In December the Rangers are second in both shooting percentage (5v5) and in PDO (104.4) while having the worst CF% (41.96) in the league. If you don’t find those numbers alarming, there’s a good chance that you’re Alain Vigneault.

“I’m not a big shot-attempt preacher or believer,” Vigneault told Newsday last week. “We have one of the most sophisticated stats packages, that has evolved through the years, that gives us breakdowns of important things we believe in. I know the shot attempts, Corsi ... I’ve got other things I rely on. I don’t put too much emphasis on that.”

Vigneault not putting stock in shot-attempts does not make him a bad coach. He’s 211-121-32 in the regular season as the Rangers bench boss and that absolutely counts for something. With that being said, he can still be a good coach and have bad ideas. Case in point: Pavel Buchnevich’s ice time in December.

The power play hasn’t bounced back with Mika Zibanejad’s return and it shows. Three of New York’s last five wins have been won by one-goal margins (if we eliminate empty net goals). The Rangers need to be better at even strength if they want to keep up with the Islanders and prevent the Penguins, Hurricanes, and Flyers from catching them in the standings.

Vigneault may not put much stock in shot attempts, but he likely pays attention to scoring chances. The Rangers SCF/60 in December is 25.79 (12th in the league), meanwhile the team’s SCA/60 in the final month of the year is 30.99 (26th in the league). Yikes. We don’t know exactly what the Rangers highlight in their sophisticated stats packages. But we can guess that the numbers for December look bad. Very bad.

Remember that the Rangers have played 23 home games and just 13 road games at the Christmas break. New York’s remaining schedule, particularly in February, looks to be a rocky road. Lundqvist standing on his head and the team’s fourth liners picking up pennies facing heads-up for the foreseeable future will not be enough to get the Rangers to the playoffs.

Hopefully the Blueshirts will look like a different team on December 27th. Two games in the next eight days sounds like good medicine for a team that needs to get over some bumps and bruises and start turning things around. But, just to be safe, you should do your best to avoid stepping on cracks in the sidewalk and under no circumstances should you walk under ladders. Given how they’ve been playing lately, the Rangers need all the luck that they can get.

Data courtesy: naturalstattrick.com, Corsica.hockey, NHL.com