We feel the same way Hank (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard a lot about the Rangers and their compete level. The coach has said there is no compete level. We’ve said this team has no compete level. Your next door neighbor said this team has no compete level. It’s a fairly common phrase. The term, obviously, is used to describe how the Rangers just don’t seem willing to do what it takes to win. We’ve seen it on the ice in every aspect of the game: hitting, defense, backchecking, board work, cycling, moving to tough areas, generating offense, etc.
You know we here love our #fancystats, and compete level is something that we can use #fancystats to quantify. If you are unfamiliar with Fenwick, read our Metrics We Use page for a refresher. Thanks to ExtraSkater, we have a visual representation of how the Rangers compete (using Fenwick) when the score is close (+/- 2 goal differential). This shows us how the Rangers play when the score is close, and if they are able to meet the challenges presented while the game is close. The graph below shows the results, and they are not pretty.
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Scott Levy/Getty Images
Now that all the hemming and hawing over Henrik Lundqvist’s contract situation has been completed, Cam Talbot’s future has been an oft-discussed topic. Whatever you may think about the specific details of the contract, Hank is going to be manning the pipes at the Garden until 2020-2021.
This brings us back to Talbot. His emergence this season as a viable NHL goaltender have prompted quite a few fans to jump to conclusions about his long-term future in the Rangers organization and his potential trade value and contract status. Just to get the facts out of the way, Talbot is under contract for this season and next at a very reasonable $562,000 cap hit. As Dave pointed out in his fantastic analysis of Hank’s contract, the discount between Marty Biron’s salary and Talbot’s hedge quite a bit of the raise that Hank received in the context of overall goaltending cost.
After next season, because of his age, Talbot will be eligible for Unrestricted Free Agency. Generally speaking, when a player makes his NHL debut, there are usually several cost controlled years at the team’s disposal, either through the ELC or RFA status. Because goalies are more often than not, late bloomers, the Rangers don’t have this luxury with Talbot. Read more »
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The request for this post came from reader Michael Noltemeyer. Thanks for reading Michael, and feel free to submit requests for posts on specific topics or questions for a mailbag at the author addresses on the right margin.
A couple years ago, I broke down the specific goaltending styles of both Henrik Lundqvist and Marty Biron. There wasn’t really much of a need for an update to this series, since the goaltending situation remained relatively stable. Now, with the retirement of “our Marty” and the emergence of rookie backup Cam Talbot, it’s time to break down the young man’s game.
During the pre-season, I wrote a piece introducing us to the player, his background and the main features of his game. Much has changed since then, however, so let’s get into it with some more detail. The previous format will still apply: analyzing the five categories of Stance, Crease movement/depth, Equipment, Puck-handling ability and Exploitable weaknesses. Here we go… Read more »
Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
When the Rangers hired Alain Vigneault as the new head coach, one of the big things he brought with him was the tendency to distribute zone starts with extreme bias. It was something we saw with John Tortorella, but not to this extreme. The easiest way to see how AV is using his forwards and defensemen is using Rob Vollman’s Player Usage Charts.
The chart takes QoC and zone starts to graphically represent where each player falls in the four quadrants (Shutdown, Two-Way, Sheltered, Less Sheltered). Shutdown is in the upper right, Two-Way upper left, Sheltered bottom right, and Less Sheltered bottom left.
We use this information to see who AV leans on for offensive zone draws, defensive zone draws, against tough competition, or who is getting cupcake minutes. The only filter used is a minimum of four games played for the season, so it eliminates some of the temporary call ups.
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Eventually some of Derek Stepan’s shots will find the back of the net
Despite the abominations Rangers fans witnessed earlier this season against San Jose and Anaheim, there have been plenty of reasons to expect a turnaround in the team’s fortunes. An extremely difficult early-season road schedule, several injuries to key players and an expected adjustment period to a new coach have all contributed to the team’s struggles. All of those things issues seem to be slowly righting themselves and as a result New York has won two of its last three games. But there’s another simple reason the team’s 4-7-0 record isn’t indicative of its performance the rest of the way: luck.
Sure, it sounds silly to think that luck can play such a major role in a professional sport where athletes are paid millions of dollars to use their top-notch skills to eliminate such variables, but luck is indeed as much a factor in the NHL as it is in your beer league game, when sometimes your team has 25 scoring chances in a game and still can’t put one by the opposing goaltender.
And any way you look at it, the Rangers have had absolutely miserable luck this season all over the ice. Well, all except one player – Brad Richards – who, ironically, felt like the team’s unluckiest player a year ago.
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Photo: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Although they were likely in the lineup due to injuries to Ryan Callahan, Rick Nash, and Carl Hagelin, the three kids who have been inserted into the lineup have shown that they belong. Both Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller –since their recent call ups– have played significantly better away from the puck, and while there is always room for improvement, they haven’t been liabilities on the ice. Jesper Fast has proven to be a reliable defensive player in limited time as well.
Looking at their #fancystats (via ExtraSkater), all three are above 50% in raw CF%, so they are driving puck possession while they are on the ice. Fast is actually third on the team in CF% at a whopping 58%. Considering his splits in zone starts (OZ – 21.1%, NZ – 43.9%, DZ – 35.1%), this is very impressive. He’s not getting the offensive opportunities that Kreider (OZ – 43.3%) or Miller (OZ – 39.1%) are getting, but he is light years ahead of that duo in maintaining puck possession.
Fast’s +6.5% CF% rel (same concept as CF%, just using Relative Corsi, read up on the Metrics We Use page if you need a refresher) is also third on the team, and shows that comparatively to the rest of his teammates, Fast is a puck possession machine. While that is not the case for Miller and Kreider (yet), they are showing improvements so far.
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It is tough to analyze #fancystats on a game-by-game basis or early on in the season. There are too many fluctuations that come with small sample sizes that skew the numbers. For example, the Rangers CF% and FF% remain in the basement of the league because of that awful game in San Jose. The reason why it’s tough to analyze on a game-by-game basis is because teams have bad games. These #fancystats –like all statistical analysis– is best used to analyze the trends over time, not just one game.
That said, there is a lot of value in looking at puck possession and noticing trends. For example, the Rangers are really hurt in the CF% and FF% categories by two games: San Jose and St. Louis. Both games saw them finish under 40%, meaning the opposition had 60% of the 5v5* shot attempts. The Rangers lost both those games. They lost another three where they had an edge in puck possession, but their goaltending and defensive coverage was atrocious (Anaheim, New Jersey). The other two losses: Phoenix (deserved to lose), Philly (dominated puck possession, good goaltending, losses happen).
*For all intents and purposes we will always be using 5v5 stats, since the majority of the game is played at 5v5.
So what does all this mean?
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There is no denying it, the Rangers are a difficult team to watch right now. While the defensive ineptitude has been mitigated for the most part as players learn their new roles in AV’s system, the offense has continued to be putrid. We can point to various injuries plaguing the top-6, the inexperience of the kids we expect to step in and soften the blow of those injuries, or the glut of semi-useful bottom-6 guys that are having expectations ramped up to levels that their abilities can’t back up.
We talk about depth quite a bit around here. It seems that since the season started, and more importantly, the losing started, the definition seems to have gotten lost. When we refer to depth, we talk about the ability to either 1) plug holes in the lineup in the case of injury, or 2) have multiple players that can play different roles in different situations, allowing the rest of the personnel to be deployed optimally. No team can absorb the type of high-end losses the Rangers have and expect the depth to cover. Imagine if Boston lost Lucic, Marchand and Bergeron all at once? While maybe not fatal, it would be an uncomfortable time in Beantown.
As New Yorkers, we feel a comfortable attachment to knee-jerk reactions and placing immediate blame for circumstances that disappoint us. We have countless sports radio talking heads, muck-raking beat writers and multiple boroughs full of people who like to shoot their mouth off around the water-cooler about their favorite teams. They conveniently disregard things such as sample-sizes, available resources, advanced statistics and other useful analytical tools to appropriately determine what has gone wrong in a given situation. It’s much easier to assign blame to an overly-simplistic and often erroneous source, or to simply play armchair GM.
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Greg Fiume/Getty Images
As we all know by now, the Rangers have gotten off to a slow start this season. One of the more surprising factors in Blueshirt’s early malaise was the rather pedestrian play of all-world goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. It wasn’t necessarily that he was playing outright badly, just far below the lofty expectations that the fan base has for #30. After posting his first shutout of the year in Washington on Wednesday night, the fan base was able to relax a bit about the form of our number-one keeper.
Buried in a quality post-game piece by Pat Leonard of the Daily News, Hank was quoted as making a small but significant adjustment to his game for the tilt in Washington: he took an extra step out from the goal line for positioning purposes. Hank was quoted on the subject as follows:
“It was more on face-offs I took a step out. My positioning on the ‘D’ shots was a little bit better. A couple times in the early games I got caught deep in my net. That’s the way I play, but there’s been a lot of deflections, (so) you want to come out a little bit more, and today it worked for me.”
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(Bill Boyce, AP)
No doubt about it, the Rangers have been incredibly underwhelming to start the season. They were outplayed in Phoenix, dismantled by Anaheim and San Jose, and bested by St. Louis (although they played well in that game). If not for strong showings in Los Angeles last week and Washington last night, we would be talking about the winless Rangers, not the 2-4 Rangers. The blame doesn’t sit squarely on one player, as almost everyone has been under performing.
In fact, it is easier to name those that are playing well. Brad Richards is playing well. Brian Boyle is playing well, although he gets a lot of unnecessary hate because of the name on the back of his jersey. Anton Stralman hasn’t been bad, although he’s facing awful competition so far. Ryan Callahan has been his usual self. Yup, that’s about it.
So what’s the problem?
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