New York Rangers: 6 Things Blueshirts Must Improve in 2012-13
The New York Rangers were the class of the Eastern Conference during the 2011-12 season.
Supported by a Vezina-calibre season by Henrik Lundqvist, a Jack Adams-worthy coaching job by John Tortorella and a stingy defense led by Ryan McDonagh, New York rode their season all the way to Game 6 in the Eastern Conference finals before bowing out to the New Jersey Devils.
Guess what? Despite last year's major—and surprising—success, the Rangers have plenty of areas to improve on if the team desires more success next season.
As a sports team, you can never be satisfied: even if you win a championship. Accepting is nearly a kiss of death, because it could lead to complacency. The best teams recognize the areas needing improvement and are hungry to fix them. If improving isn't part of a team's goal, then what exactly are they striving to achieve?
Where do the New York Rangers need to improve the most? Lets find out!
If you're an avid follower of Rangers games, one complaint you're sure to have is the team doesn't get enough quality shots on net.
Whether it's failing to get into the high-percentage scoring areas or being too unselfish, the Rangers are subject to passing up quality chances.
Last season, the Blueshirts finished 20th in the NHL, averaging 28.5 shots per game. That number needs to go up.
It's not a plea to simply start throwing the puck on net aimlessly (although you never know what can happen when you do). It's more a request to take that shot on a two-on-one rather than passing it, or force the goalie to make an impressive save rather than just throwing it into his pads.
One area the coaching staff constantly preaches is to get traffic in front of the net. Tortorella loves a straight-line approach to hockey, so getting players to crash the crease for rebounds is essential. But being in the right position to score those goals matter more. Too deep in the crease and you'll miss all rebounds in the slot.
The New York Rangers averaged the fifth most penalty minutes last season (12.9 minutes per game), although it's inflated because of the amount of major penalties taken by the team (65, tied with Boston for most in the NHL).
The biggest culprits were Brandon Prust (156 PIMs) and Brandon Dubinsky (110 PIMs), both of whom are no longer on the team.
The majority of Prust's minutes came from fighting majors, but Dubinsky took 30 minor penalties last year. If a top-six player isn't scoring but is leaving his team shorthanded, it's detrimental to the team.
To give some perspective, the Rangers' newest additions of Arron Asham, Taylor Pyatt, Jeff Halpern and Rick Nash combined for 163 PIMs altogether. Asham's job is to play physical and stick up for teammates, but he won't be leading the NHL in PIMs anytime soon.
The good news is the Rangers were middle of the pack in terms of times shorthanded last season (260 total, 12th-best in the NHL) and their two biggest PIMs leaders are playing on different teams. Attention to detail and more discipline will be the goals for 2012-13.
One of the biggest, most criticized areas for the Rangers last season was their inability to score goals.
A lineup that boasted the new addition of Brad Richards to go along with Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan were expected to do great things.
New York averaged 2.77 goals per game (11th-best in the NHL), which isn't a terrible number, but it will need to be improved if the team desires to give Lundqvist a breather from constantly battling in 2-1 games.
The acquisition of Rick Nash is a direct solution to the Rangers' goalscoring woes.
The former Blue Jacket is a proven sniper, with seven 30-goal and two 40-goal seasons under his belt. Whether he plays with Richards or Stepan remains to be seen, but Nash should help a team that only scored 150 goals at even strength (15th-best in the NHL) last year.
The X-factor looks to be rookie Chris Kreider, who showed the NHL he had the goods by scoring five goals in 18 playoff games.
If Kreider carries that success over, the Rangers have yet another threat on the ice for defenses to contend with. If he's ineffective—which all rookies are at some point—and places too much pressure on himself, how much will it affect the team's ability to score?
What is one of the easiest ways to control possession in hockey on both sides of the puck?
It's a fundamental element that can instantaneously help or hinder a team from winning.
Just ask the Washington Capitals after Game 5 of their series against New York last playoffs how important winning faceoffs are. Last season, the Rangers won 50 percent of their faceoffs (18th best in the NHL) and were the second-worst team in the playoffs at 48.4 percent.
Pivots Brad Richards, Derek Stepan and Brian Boyle need to improve their numbers in 2012-13, if only incrementally. The 2012 Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings finished the regular season winning 51.5 percent of their faceoffs. A few more faceoff wins in key times can really go a long way.
New York did bring in faceoff specialist Jeff Halpern to center their fourth line, and he should aid in improving the team's overall faceoff numbers. He finished last season winning 58.4 percent of his faceoffs.
Calculating how good or bad a hockey team starts isn't as simple as looking at a statistic and where it ranks among other teams.
It's mostly visual: Does the team come out hitting and skating, or flat and lethargic?
The New York Rangers seemed to always have issues getting out of the gate strong last season.
It didn't affect their success, though. New York was 35-5-3 when scoring the first goal (third-best in the NHL) and 21-3-3 when leading after the first period (16th-best in the NHL). Why exactly is this an area of improvement?
A stat that can be examined is goals scored by period, and the Blueshirts ranked 24th by only scoring 57 goals in the first period. It's not a perfect measuring stick—both Stanley Cup Finals teams from last season ranked worse than New York in scoring in the first period.
For the Rangers, consistency will be key. Spark-plug players like Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin need to come out on their first shifts and hit everything in sight, generate an aggressive forecheck and give their team—and the crowd—an infectious shot of energy.
Getting on the scoreboard first—and building on it if the opponent is reeling—is the mark of a good team.
Quite possibly the area in most need of improvement, the New York Rangers' power play is very enigmatic. At times last season, it looked deadly. At other times, it looked blandly routine and easy to defend.
The numbers aren't too kind.
The Rangers' man advantage ranked 23rd overall with a 15.7-percent conversion rate. The team's 44 power-play goals ranked 20th overall, and their shots on goal when up a man (351) ranked 17th overall. Not enough shots, not enough goals and not enough execution in an area where, if it's clicking, can help you win tightly contested games.
Brad Richards' arrival last season was supposed to help the power play with his excellent vision and passing abilities, but it never consistently happened. With a year under his belt, Richards should be more comfortable and have a better idea on how to find open players.
Rick Nash scored only six power-play goals last season in Columbus, but the numbers don't accurately portray how dangerous his shot will be when he has the time to fire it. Expect those numbers to go up next season with Richards dishing him the puck.
Perhaps the biggest key is Michael Del Zotto.
The 22-year-old defenseman profiles as a power-play quarterback, but he has yet to develop into that role. When he's on, Del Zotto can find the open man on a home-run pass or distribute the puck to the open man. When he's off, he hesitates at the point and fails to get pucks on net.
If Del Zotto gets his game together this season, the Rangers' man advantage becomes very deadly.
It's a decent-sized if, though.