The Rangers are finally putting things together.
It has truly been bizzaro world for the Broadway Blueshirts lately, as things are finally starting to click. The power play is one of the league's best. Henrik Lundqvist is stopping pucks again, and Rick Nash is putting the puck in the net more consistently.
All of these things are positives for the New York Rangers, and it shows growth, progress and promise. With that in mind, have the Blueshirts turned a corner, and is Alain Vigneault's system finally working?
It is pretty clear that in addition to healing all wounds, time helps develop chemistry and allows for certain actions to be repeated until they are mastered. Early in the season, the Rangers were playing some ugly hockey that resulted in embarrassing blowouts to the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks.
It was painfully clear that something was amiss, and it looks like it was timing. Players were jumping offside, drop passes were intercepted and goaltenders were hung out to dry when defenders missed an assignment by pinching instead of dropping back.
It was understandable when you consider that the current roster had been a disciple of John Tortorella’s system for the past four years, but now the Rangers are moving to the beat of a new drum.
One of the biggest changes the Blueshirts had to come to grips with was the concept of rolling four lines. John Tortorella liked to rely on f
avorites players he could trust in all situations, and that left guys like Chris Kreider out in the cold holding a boom box just wanting to be noticed.
This year, Kreider has done quite well for himself, and some other players have been given a fair rotation throughout the lineup.
Under Vigneault, the Rangers have been given time to let certain duos take form, and over the last few weeks three lines have remained a constant. Recently, the fourth line has been in flux because of various injuries, trades and demotions, but it should be kept together for at least the month of January.
Here are the Rangers’ current lines and how they have produced as a collective unit.
|Left Wings||Centers||Right Wings||Goals||Points||Points Per Game|
|Chris Kreider||Derek Stepan||Rick Nash||30||76||0.66|
|Carl Hagelin||Brad Richards||Ryan Callahan||30||69||0.61|
|Benoit Pouliot||Derick Brassard||Mats Zuccarello||27||75||0.56|
|Brian Boyle||Dominic Moore||Daniel Carcillo||7||19||0.21|
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As you can see, these lines have produced in spades—and there is a good balance. Richards, Zuccarello and Kreider are among the forward leaders in scoring, but each is on a different line.
This has allowed Vigneault to use his top players by zone in key spots, which has enabled the Blueshirts to be a strong puck possession team (h/t Extra Skater).
The familiarity of linemates and the system has also allowed the Blueshirts to increase their offensive output. Thus far, the Rangers have played 47 games, so for the sake of convenience, here is a split of their first and last 23 games offensively.
|GAMES||GOALS||NET GAIN||GOALS PER GAME||% INCREASE|
The results are night and day, and while it may appear that the Blueshirts as a whole are still an underwhelming offensive team, the above table illustrates the strides made recently.
In addition, the power play has been another key driver of offense, and here is how the Blueshirts have performed thus far with a man advantage.
These are some great numbers, and they really help illustrate why the offense has been more potent as of late.
While the Blueshirts still have some areas to improve, it is fair to say Vigneault's system is finally working. New York would like to get more out of its defense offensively—players such as Brad Richards and Derek Stepan, but right now it makes to accentuate the positives.
The Rangers have won three games in a row and seven of their last 10. Victories have been captured against quality competition, such as the Chicago Blackhawks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Philadelphia Flyers and Dallas Stars. Lundqvist is looking like an Olympian, and the team is pulling its weight as a collective unit.
Michael Del Zotto has played much better since switching back to the left side. Dan Girardi has looked steadier and the defense as a whole has adapted to Vigneault's uptempo style (H/t Andrew Gross). Marc Staal's return to the lineup has helped tremendously, and the Blueshirts have some solid pairings that are finding a groove. Ryan McDonagh has been skating with Girardi, Staal has been with Anton Stralman and John Moore with the aforementioned Del Zotto.
The recent upswing has pushed the Blueshirts back into a playoff spot, but there are multiple teams nipping at their heels. There are still decisions that need to be made between now and the deadline that could impact the team’s future, but surely those will be addressed soon.
It will take a steady effort throughout the rest of the campaign to secure a playoff spot, and the team's recent play has shown they have the potential to accomplish that goal. You can say that the Rangers have turned the corner, but be wary: The team has played the roles of Jekyll and Hyde this season, so they could regress as easily as they have improved before you know it.