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Sizing up the (potential) nemeses: New York Rangers

The Rangers had quite the offseason, and looked like a real threat in the second half of the year. Are they one?

New York Rangers v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

Since we have no idea which of the eight teams that are playing in the play-in round will be the Flyers’ eventual opponent in the postseason, we here at BSH are taking a look at all eight of the teams that will be squaring off in Toronto during the play-in round. How’d their season go? What makes them good? What makes them bad? Are they a threat to make a run? All that, and more.

We started with a look at the Columbus Blue Jackets, and we continue on here with the bracket’s eleventh seed, the New York Rangers, because, I don’t know, I woke up today and felt like roasting the New York Rangers. On we go.

New York Rangers

Their season, in 100 words: They won the offseason! They brought in Jacob Trouba, Kaapo Kakko, Adam Fox, and Artemi Panarin. Then the actual season started, and it took them a while to really get going. They’ve been one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL, but they managed to stay afloat largely thanks to near-MVP calibre play from Panarin, Mika Zibanejad’s career year, and strong goaltending (from three different people!). They went on a hot streak in February despite some injuries to jump onto the playoff bubble. Oh, and they did all of this while playing their home games in a train station.

Team-Level Numbers

Team Performance: New York Rangers

Measure Full Season Since All-Star Break
Measure Full Season Since All-Star Break
Games 70 22
Points Percentage 56.40% 68.40%
Total Goal Differential (Non-SO) 13 12
Goals For % (5-on-5) 51.19% 54.65%
On-Ice xG For per 60 2.46 2.51
On-Ice xG Against per 60 2.73 2.58
On-Ice xG % (5-on-5)* 47.26% 49.48%
PDO (5-on-5) 100.9 101.2
Power Play Goals / xG For per 60 8.11 / 7.39 9.03 / 7.01
Penalty Kill Goals / xG Against per 60 8.3 / 8.61 9.34 / 9.78

* 5-on-5 xG numbers are score/venue-adjusted. All statistics courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.com.

Projected lineup (courtesy of Daily Faceoff):

Chris Kreider - Mika Zibanejad - Pavel Buchnevich

Artemi Panarin - Ryan Strome - Jesper Fast

Phil Di Giuseppe - Filip Chytil - Kaapo Kakko

Greg McKegg - Brett Howden - Julien Gauthier

Brendan Smith - Jacob Trouba

Ryan Lindgren - Adam Fox

Marc Staal - Anthony DeAngelo

Igor Shesterkin

Henrik Lundqvist

(Full Phase 3 roster can be found here.)

Two good things:

  • Top of the lineup power. The Rangers have managed to stay afloat despite a lot of holes in their lineup because the “good” has been very good. Panarin probably isn’t going to win the Hart Trophy, but there’s a decent case to be made that he should. Zibanejad has always been good, but he’s brought it up another level this year — he had 41 goals and 75 points before the stoppage. They’ve got a few other wingers that are legit threats (Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider), and while Ryan Strome is almost certainly being dragged by the bumper of Panarin’s Ferrari, he’s fared well there.
  • Goaltending. You know you’re in a good spot when, ugly as he is, Henrik Lundqvist may be your third-string goaltender when everyone’s healthy. Alexandar Georgiev fared pretty well for much of the season, but it’s phenom Igor Shesterkin whose strong play really revived the Rangers’ season. He was injured in a car accident in February, but all accounts are that he is currently healthy and ready to go.

Two bad things:

  • The defense, almost in its entirety. Other than rookie Adam Fox (who’s admittedly been great) and local product (ugh) Tony DeAngelo, there is a whole lot of not-good going on here. They’re lucky that they didn’t give up much for Trouba asset-wise, because they’ve put him in a No. 1 defenseman’s role and he’s been a significant disappointment so far. And there’s nothing else to write home about that hasn’t already been mentioned. Marc Staal is, incredibly, still playing meaningful minutes for this team.
  • Forward depth. Here’s a fun number, via Natural Stat Trick. At 5-on-5, the Rangers have spent nearly as much time this season with at least one of Panarin and Zibanejad on the ice (1,642:14) as they have without either (1,662:06). In the former set of time? They’ve outscored their opponents 106-60 (63.86%). In the latter? They’ve been outscored 83-44 (34.65%). It is not shocking that a team is better with one of its two best players on the ice than it is without either of them, but that is a biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig gap, one which gives off 2017-18 Flyers kinds of vibes. All of which is to say that their bottom-6 just hasn’t got the job done this year. Filip Chytil has been solid, but that’s about it; in particular, if they were expecting a big impact from Kaapo Kakko in his rookie year, they haven’t been getting it. Could they have used a guy like Kevin Hayes? Tough to say. Feels like they could have.

One true question mark: Coaching. David Quinn is in his second season behind the bench in the NHL after coming up from the college ranks, and reviews of his time in New York have been mixed. His teams have looked a bit messy at times and it seems hard to put a ton of credit for their relative successes this year on his shoulders (Artemi Panarin and the goalies aren’t good because of him, y’know?), but he’s had to manage one of the youngest teams in the NHL, and the team’s upward trajectory over the course of the season speaks positively of his job there. How he’ll fare in the postseason is anyone’s guess. (To be clear, I’d rather have a guy who’s almost certainly going to be named a Jack Adams finalist tomorrow, but it’s not like the Rangers could have ever had someone like that behind their bench.)

How they fared against the Flyers this year: They got dunked on. Three times, in fact. While the Flyers came away with a 5-1 win in Philly on Festivus, the two teams actually played a pretty tight one before the home team broke open a tied game with four goals in the third period, two of which came from Hayes in his first game against his old team. In late February, the Rangers came into Philadelphia on a nine-game road winning streak and left Philadelphia with a zero-game road winning streak, as the Flyers beat them up and down the ice in a 5-2 victory. And the teams played again two days later in New York City’s second most-famous train station, with the Flyers blazing out to a 4-0 lead and admittedly kinda coasting the rest of the way, pulling out a 5-3 victory despite some 2018-like penalty killing and defense.

First-round opponent: The Carolina Hurricanes, who finished just two points ahead of the Rangers in the season-ending standings (but with two games in hand). It’s an interesting matchup, in that these two teams are built to play (and do play) in fairly different ways. Carolina doesn’t quite have the top-of-the-line firepower that the Rangers do, but it has forward and defensive depth that could give New York some issues. Then again, the Rangers swept the four-game season series with the ‘Canes this year, all in regulation, so maybe it’s a better matchup for them than one would think at first glance.

Are they a threat? Well, they’ve got top-end forward talent that can hang with basically anyone else’s, and they have somewhere between one and three goaltenders on their roster who’s a threat to steal a game on any given night. It’s not hard to see how this team wins games. But that’s ... just about their only path? It’s not a perfect parallel, but like I mentioned above, this team reminds me in a couple ways of the Flyers of two years ago, the ones who had a chance on any given night because of the level Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier played at, but didn’t have much of one if that pairing didn’t get the better of the other team. Take that group, give it better goaltending and a worse defense, and this is more or less what you’re looking at. They were one of the worst defensive and play-driving teams in the NHL for the early part of the season, and while they’ve moved a bit in the right direction since then, the path to victory for this team on a given night is fairly narrow. Straightforward, and doable, but narrow, and maybe too narrow to do in multiple rounds.

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