The best way to determine the best teams in any sport is to look at the standings, right? If they’ve been playing well, they’ll be near the top of the league. As Bill Parcells said, “You are what your record says you are.”
In the NHL, everybody knows that the Panthers, Lightning, Golden Knights, Hurricanes, Predators, and Avalanche are good teams. Then, there’s the New York Rangers.
Don’t let names like All-Stars Adam Fox and Chris Kreider as well as former Calder Trophy winner and Hart Trophy finalist Artemi Panarin fool you. They are incredibly solid players, but none of them can hide what the Rangers are really up to.
With a record of 24-10-4, the Rangers should be one of the most fearsome teams in the NHL, but their analytics suggest they’re merely a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Despite holding a record ten games over .500, the Rangers still have allowed more goals (66) than they’ve scored this season (65) when playing 5-on-5. The Rangers are the only team in the league with a plus-15 or greater total goal differential to have a negative expected goal differential (-.08).
In terms of Corsi Goals For/Against, the Rangers actually rank as one of the worst teams in the league. If you look at MoneyPuck’s expected goals for versus allowed graph, the Rangers should theoretically be in the same ballpark as team’s like the San Jose Sharks, New Jersey Devils, and Anaheim Ducks, all fine teams, but nowhere near the Rangers in the standings. While the Ducks are second in the Pacific Division, they’ve only accrued 56.25 percent of their total possible points. The Sharks: 53.95 percent. The Devils: 44.59 percent. Meanwhile the Rangers, despite putting up similar advanced metrics have accrued 68.42 percent of their total possible points.
So, what sets them apart? And is what they’ve accomplished sustainable for an entire season?
The first question is simple. The team has been phenomenal on special teams. Of course, there are the obvious metrics like power play percentage (Rangers rank ninth: 22.7 percent) and penalty kill percentage (third: 85.5 percent), but it’s more than that. The Rangers have been extraordinarily good at creating second-chance opportunities with the man advantage. The Rangers are top-eight in rebound shots for and expected rebound shots for all while being outside the top-10 in rebounds shots for above expected with the man advantage.
That’s incredibly hard to do given the fact that they’ve actually been unlucky at creating those second-chance opportunities. While the Los Angeles Kings and Winnipeg Jets might rank higher than the Rangers in the first two statistics, they also rank much higher in the third, meaning the amount of scoring chances those two teams have had from rebounds is far less sustainable than what the Rangers are doing on offense.
However, the defensive metrics tell a different story for the Rangers. Despite being third in the NHL in penalty kill percentage, the Rangers actually rank 22nd in the NHL in expected goals against and 23rd in expected goal differential while playing 4-on-5. The Rangers have simply been bailed out time and time again by their netminder, Igor Shesterkin.
In just his third year in the NHL, Shesterkin has already made a name for himself as one of the league’s premier goalies. He currently leads the NHL in both save percentage and goals allowed average, and he’s done so while playing on a team that doesn’t really give him all that much to work with.
Across all situations, the Rangers have surrendered the second-most unblocked shot attempts in the NHL (1702), only ahead of the Anaheim Ducks (1804). While that’s good for Shesterkin’s vision when trying to stop the puck, it’s also indicative of a team that will be forced to spend a lot of time in their defensive zone since pucks are consistently getting to the net and being pushed deep into the Rangers’ defensive zone. That plus the fact that the Rangers are currently one of the worst faceoff teams in the league (47.81 win percentage) makes for one of the most uneasy division leaders in the league.
The Rangers are by no means a bad team. They have just relied very heavily on the strength of their third-year goaltender (who should’ve been an All-Star by the way) and power play. While this plan has worked thus far into the 2022 season, it’s proven to be an unreliable strategy for sustained success.
The Rangers should be a bubble playoff team. Instead, they’ve been one of the best in the league. The analytics say it’s only a matter of time before they get brought down to earth, but hey, they’ve made it this far and haven’t looked back once.