The story that had settled since the start of Gérard Gallant’s reign behind the bench last season – and for good reason – is inoperative.
The Rangers who were insufficient at five against five and carried offensively by the power play ceased to exist.
Instead, the revamped Blueshirts, who used 40 different opening line combinations in the club’s first 35 games leading up to the wonderfully civilized Christmas recess, rank comparatively higher playing even strength than with the advantage of the man.
No one would have expected it.
By the way, Gallant created 33 line combinations in the first 35 games of last season. Neither this total nor this season’s tally includes units that were combined mid-game. Thus, the Artemi Panarin-Mika Zibanejad-Vitali Kravtsov and Barclay Goodrow-Jonny Brodzinski-Julien Gauthier combinations who played the final over-two periods of the 5-3 win over the Islanders on December 22 are not included in the count. .
The 411 in 5 against 5
The 2021-22 Rangers improved their game to a five-on-five close to the trade deadline with the rental additions of Frank Vatrano, Andrew Copp, Tyler Motte and defender Justin Braun. The club’s production and efficiency have improved.
But before Vatrano was acquired as the first of the Fortifications after Game 60, the Blueshirts ranked 24th in the NHL at five-on-five in goals by 60:00 at 2.26 (thanks, Natural Stat Trick). They ranked 28th in xGF percentage (expected goals) at 45.85, and their 50% goal percentage (111 for, 111 against) came in at 17th.
Hence, the flurry of trades that cost the Blueshirts a first-round pick, a second-rounder, a third-rounder, a pair of fourth-rounders and Morgan Barron, but also propelled the club into the conference finals.
This season, without any of the rentals and also without the departure of free agent Ryan Strome, the Rangers will enter Tuesday night’s Garden game against the Caps ranked 12th in goals by 60 at 2.66 and 15th in xGF pct. at 51:16 p.m. Their goals-for PCT. of 53.96 (75 for, 64 against) ranks eighth.
So despite Zibanejad and Chris Kreider splitting up and stopping trying to hit the Panarin-Vincent Trocheck ankle from a round-hole connection (or maybe, because of those unforeseen moves), the Blueshirts have made significant progress in their five-out-of-five games…and that’s while receiving an average goalie for the first two months.
Nothing special about this power play
These results may not change Drury’s approach to the deadline – at or around which everyone expects Rangers to add a top-six right wing in known quantity. – but this represents an improvement and good news.
Neither applies to the allegedly touted power play.
After finishing fourth overall last season when they were playing at a clip of 25.2% with a dreaded dynamic group, Rangers sit 15th at the break with a rate of 22, 9% that brought tears. That’s just not good enough for a unit meant to be a game breaker.
The right-four concept has been in place since Thanksgiving 2019, when then-head coach David Quinn built a unit that included Zibanejad, Panarin, Strome and Tony DeAngelo with southpaw Kreider. This unit triggered at a rate of 29.3% between the Christmas holidays and the end of the March 11 COVID-related season.
Righty Adam PKB replaced DeAngelo at the top at the start of the following season. This unit remained unbroken until Trocheck, another right-hander, replaced Strome at the start of this season.
But with familiarity, the unit has become more predictable and even stale at times, although Panarin and Zibanejad essentially swapped places against the Islanders last week with the No.10 moving into the off-wing, left-circle, one-time position. that he originally had. held upon arrival in the team in 2019-20. The puck often moves too slowly. Setups are often overly deliberate and sometimes telegraphed.
Strome was more of an enabler while Trocheck has a shoot-first mentality out of the bumper position. Indeed, Trocheck is tied with Panarin in power-play shot attempts, behind Zibanejad, while he is second in shots behind Zibanejad. It is a change.
Chris crossed sons
But the most dramatic change over the season involves Kreider, who led the NHL last season with a franchise-record 26 power-play goals en route to a 52-goal season. The league’s most effective presence in net has fallen short of the touches he made last season and in the first 20 games of this season when the unit virtually ran through him.
Through the first 10 games, Kreider had 28 power-play attempts and 15 shots while being credited by Natural Stat Trick with creating 21 scoring chances. Over the next 10 games, Kreider had 16 attempts and 12 shots while creating 16 scoring chances. Thus, in 20 games, Kreider had 44 attempts and 27 shots while creating 37 scoring chances and recording four PPGs.
But in the next 15 games leading up to the break, the Rangers were either unable to get the puck to Kreider, either screening the goalie or wide of the net, or they changed the game plan. Over the past 15 games, Kreider has managed just 10 power-play attempts and five shots while generating nine scoring chances. He has played 18 straight games without PPG.
The difference is dramatic.
Maybe opposing penalties prevent the guys at the top from shooting Kreider. Perhaps Trocheck’s heightened shooting mentality, as he gained comfort on the unit, changed the dynamic. Maybe the defenders do a better job of keeping Kreider out of position. Maybe Kreider hasn’t done such a good job of establishing that web presence. Perhaps Rangers fell head over heels in love with Zibanejad’s one-timer.
Some of all of the above? Probably. But the fact is, over the past 15 games, Kreider has ranked eighth on the team in power play attempts by 60:00. Something is wrong there. It is imperative that Rangers involve Kreider more. Everyone enjoys their touches around the net.