The New York Rangers were dissatisfied with how last season concluded.
“That one stung for a while,” captain Jacob Trouba recalled of the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs’ seven-game first-round loss to the rival New Jersey Devils. “They always sting, but that one was a pit in our stomach for a long time.”It was easy to foresee that the Rangers would be a motivated group from the start of the 2023-24 season. The majority of the roster was back. They had a new coach in Peter Laviolette, since Gerard Gallant was fired as a result of the playoff loss. Artemi Panarin, the team’s star winger, symbolically acknowledged the team’s renewed concentration by chopping off his hair as a follicular “reset.”
Few expected the Rangers’ start to be this strong: Through 27 games, he is 19-7-1 for a.722 point percentage, which ranks third in the NHL. Since their inception in 1926, the Rangers have never had a squad finish with a points percentage higher than.700.They were in the top ten in terms of both goals scored and goals allowed per game. Their special teams are outstanding, featuring a power play that ranks among the best in the NHL. The newly shorn Panarin scored 39 points in 27 games, sparking MVP speculation. In his first 27 games, Chris Kreider scored 14 goals.
They won despite injuries to standout defenseman Adam Fox, who missed 10 games, center Filip Chytil, who is out indefinitely with an upper-body ailment, and, most recently, Kaapo Kakko, who is projected to lose substantial time.
They maintained winning despite goalie Igor Shesterkin’s off-day (.902 save percentage), thanks in large part to veteran offseason signee Jonathan Quick’s return to form (8-0,.922 save percentage).All of this adds up to the Rangers being favorites to win the Metro Division and the Eastern Conference, with a genuine chance of celebrating the 30th anniversary of their Stanley Cup title in 1994 by winning another one next June.
What is new for the Rangers? Is this success long-term?
The results aren’t as optimistic as their track record may suggest.
Here’s a look at some of the Rangers’ most important regions this season.Gallant vs. Laviolette
Laviolette’s sixth NHL head-coaching job is with the Rangers. He won the Stanley Cup in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes and has also appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals with the Philadelphia Flyers (2010) and Nashville Predators (2017). He’s been everywhere, but he’s been successful: Laviolette is tenth all-time in coaching victories (771) and has a higher points percentage (.590) than four of the coaches ahead of him on the list.
Prior to the season, he outlined his vision for the Rangers: an aggressive approach on the field with lots of puck pressure and pursuit; a gritty club that can grind down opponents; and a team that plays in a “playoff style” long before the postseason arrives.
Has that attitude affected the way the Rangers play compared to when Gerard Gallant was coaching them?”Statistically, and specifically at 5-on-5, there isn’t much of a difference in the data from last year to this year,” Stathletes analyst Meghan Chayka said.Although 27 games is a tiny sample size, Josh Younggren, co-founder of the analytics site Evolving Hockey, highlighted that it was tough to detect any distinctions between the Rangers’ two seasons under Gallant and their start under Laviolette.
“Looking at various metrics from our site, the Rangers have been surprisingly consistent under both coaches,” he went on to say.
Younggren stated that the Rangers had hovered around 50% in shot attempts and expected goals percentage under both coaches. They’ve kept their shooting percentage between 8 and 9%.
Chayka is still pleased by the Rangers’ ability to create 5-on-5 opportunities. They top the NHL in offensive zone cross-ice passes per game (6.70), having previously led the league (6.95).
“The Rangers take an NHL-leading 36.3% of their shots off of weak-side plays and an NHL-leading 37.9% of their scoring chances from weakside plays,” she went on to say. “This creates an environment in which the Rangers cause opposing goalies to move.” They try 6.9% of their shots on a goalie who is not set to the shot, which ranks third in the NHL.”
Because of their East-West passing in the offensive zone, the Rangers generate 11.8% of their scoring opportunities outside of the slot area, which ranks them third in the league this season.
In this regard, the fact that not much has changed from Gallant to Laviolette is encouraging, because the Rangers continue to prosper offensively at 5-on-5.
“The Rangers have had this offensive approach for multiple seasons and have been effective doing so,” he remarked. “The high-quality looks created by this passing are likely to continue based on the Rangers having top level playmakers.”What is the best strategy to deal with the Rangers’ offense in 5-on-5? Making their best players defend as much as possible, as the Toronto Maple Leafs did effectively in Tuesday night’s 7-3 triumph at Madison Square Garden.
“I believe it is critical. When their top players aren’t on the ice, I believe they’re a much different club,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “That’s not uncommon for most teams, but there’s a great discrepancy with this group, so we needed to manage that.”
Younggren singled out Jimmy Vesey and hard-driving rookie Will Cuylle as two Rangers depth players who have excelled this season. However, the top five scorers are the usual suspects: Panarin (39), Vincent Trocheck (25), Mika Zibanejad (23), Kreider (22) and Fox (18). All of the players other than Adam Fox are 30 or older.
Laviolette has made the Rangers’ defense a little leakier. They averaged 2.73 anticipated goals per 60 minutes last season and are averaging 2.90 after 27 games this season, ranking 21st in the NHL.
Chayka’s ability to prevent opponents from scoring off the rush was one of their main priorities.
“When they allow too many opponent chances off the rush, they are playing with fire,” she went on to say. “In victories, they allow 3.16 rush scoring chances per game.” They allow 5.25 rush scoring chances per game in losses.”
Under Laviolette, opponents that can break out pucks and exploit their pace continue to vex the Rangers. Auston Matthews stated this after the Leafs used their speed to score four goals in the first period.
“The way they play, they’re really good in transition, and we obviously had some back and forth in the second.” But I believed we were just above them, had nice gaps, were breaking pucks out easily, and were going at them fast at first,” he said. “It was hard for them to handle.”The power game
The power play has been the most noticeable change between the Gallant Rangers and this season’s model.
Last season, New York clicked at 24.1%, ranking eighth in the NHL. So far this season, they have a 30.5% conversion rate, trailing just the Devils (31.8%). This season, the 6.4 percentage point rise is tied for the third biggest year-over-year growth.Their 25 power-play goals were tied for fourth in the NHL as of Thursday.
The Rangers are getting about the same number of power plays as they did last season. However, they are capitalizing more, which Younggren says is the main difference between the Gallant Rangers and Laviolette’s squad thus far.
“The only real difference I can find is their shooting percentage on the powerplay: It’s markedly increased while their underlying metrics are mostly in line with the previous seasons,” he told reporters.
According to Younggren, the Rangers are averaging 11.7 power-play goals per 60 minutes, up from 9.4 and 8.2 in their previous two seasons under Gallant.
A snapshot of the Rangers’ power play this season vs. last season from Stathletes:
Their special teams have been crucial all season. They are at 84.1% on the penalty kill, up from 81.2% previous season.
Opponents are taking notice, including the Toronto Maple Leafs this week.
“We talked about winning the special teams a battle or at least drawing even on that,” Keefe said in a statement. “They score on the power play.” We erased that with a tremendous power-play goal in the third period and a goal on a delayed penalty in the first. Taking care of special teams as part of it is also a critical component.”
What about the goalkeepers?
The Rangers are this successful without Igor Shesterkin playing up to his norms, just as the line “the Washington Capitals are in a playoff seed despite Alex Ovechkin having five goals” doesn’t make sense.
“He’s a world-class goalkeeper.” “We have a great deal of faith in him,” Laviolette added. “There are things we can do in front of him that are better.”
In 17 games, the former Vezina Trophy winner has a.902 save percentage and a 3.02 goals-against average. According to Money Puck, he has saved 5.6 goals more than predicted. He’s still really good. He’s just not Igor Shesterkin right now.
Younggren believes the Rangers’ goaltending is “worse” now than it was under Gallant because Shesterkin is about five projected goals saved behind his pace from the previous two seasons.
Chayka concurs. “Something doesn’t seem right with Igor Shesterkin in net.” “He’s been average to below-average,” she explained.Shesterkin was first in 2021-22 (+.224), 11th last season (+.078), and is presently 32nd this season (-.052) among goalies with at least 10 games played, according to Chayka.
While Shesterkin works on his game, the Rangers have been buoyed by the surprise career comeback of Jonathan Quick, 37, who has a.922 save % and a 2.20 goals-against average during an 8-0-1 start. This season, Quick has saved 9.6 goals more than projected, ranking tenth in the NHL.
“Jonathan’s career has been tremendous. “The fact that he’s found himself [again] as a three-time Stanley Cup champion, his work ethic, and the type of person that he is can be a really good thing for your team,” Laviolette explained.So… are the Rangers legit?
The Rangers’ performance through the first 27 games has been good. Is it, however, sustainable?
“The Rangers are hilarious. This year’s Rangers team feels like every other Rangers team in recent memory. “They’re still relying on good to great goaltending, a strong power play, and a little luck,” Younggren explained. “At the very least, this season’s roster is fairly similar to those under Gallant; and it appears their players, for the most part, are doing what they’ve always done.”
However, Younggren believes the Rangers’ record is inflated when one looks beneath the hood at what they’re doing statistically, as well as what he deems an unacceptable record in one-goal games this season: 9-0, certainly the greatest winning percentage in the league.But that doesn’t mean the Rangers’ wheels are going to fall off.
“I think it’s reasonable to assume, given the consistent roster and previous performance, they can keep up a similar recipe of strong goaltending and power play success,” he said. “It’s typically quite risky to rely on goaltending and shooting alone — without similarly strong shot-attempt and/or quality metrics to back those up — but the Rangers continue to do it.”
NHL Power Rankings
Furthermore, they have thrived in the absence of Shesterkin’s dominance. Based on his career statistics, one can predict he’ll hit his stride.Laviolette is obviously delighted with his team’s standings. But, like his players, they have bigger goals. He wants to see the Rangers play the way they’ll need to in order to succeed in the playoffs.
“You can’t simply flip a switch.” It has to be pushed throughout the season so that it’s not something you have to modify or turn a switch to play playoff hockey,” he said. “It’s so that you’re preparing yourself the whole year to play playoff hockey.”
That postseason effort is motivated by a sense of urgency. Not only to avenge last season’s postseason setback, but also because this team wants to win the Cup together. “The main guys have been here for quite some time. We just have a few chances. “That’s the reality of the game,” Trouba explained. “The time is now.”