The Rangers are off to a rip-roaring start to the 2016-17 season in which they find themselves in first place in the Metropolitan Division. With a record of 11-4-0 and 22 points, the Rangers also sit second in the NHL standings behind the Montreal Canadiens and slightly ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks. The team’s current position may seem all good and well, but the Blueshirts were in this situation last year and then it all came crashing down. Last year the Rangers were fueled by a steady diet of Henrik Lundqvist awesomeness and the fumes of PDO. PDO is the sum of a given team’s shooting percentage and save percentage at even strength. In layman terms, the Rangers were winning games but were doing so in a manner that was completely unsustainable.
This year the Rangers’ current PDO is 104.87 which is the third highest in the NHL. According to Corsica, the Rangers expected PDO was 101.04, so in other words, they are trending ahead. At this point, you might be thinking that the Rangers are going down the same path again, but it is quite the contrary. Currently, the Rangers rank No. 1 in the league in shooting percentage at 12.65, and that’s a number that will not last over an entire season. The 2012-13 Toronto Maple Leafs (10.67 s%) and the 2009-10 Washington Capitals (10.35 s%) are the only two teams over the last decade to have a team shooting percentage over 10 percent, so you can expect the Rangers to come down to earth. For context, here is how the Rangers have shot the last three seasons.
Once again you might be looking at that chart and saying the Rangers are going to be in trouble, but once again it is quite the contrary. The strength of the Rangers is the forward group, and the top attribute is speed. The Blueshirts are a much faster team than they were last year and the subtraction of players such as Tanner Glass. Dominic Moore and Dan Boyle among others have played a role.
More importantly, the Rangers forward group has elite skill on each line, and it is arguably the deepest team in the league up front. Even if, or rather, when the Rangers’ shooting percentage normalizes they will be OK due to the fact they are not relying on one or two players to drive the offense.
Here is a look at where the 2015-16 Rangers stood at this point of the season last year, and where the 2016-17 team is.
The most glaring stat of this chart is the depth of double-digit point producers. Last season through 15 games Derick Brassard led the team and scoring and Oscar Lindberg was second in scoring on the Rangers with 10 points, this year he has zero in four games played. Granted Lindberg is coming off hip surgery, but boy what a difference a year makes. He was one of only four double-digit point producers through 15 games last season. Through 15 games this season the Rangers have ten players with 10 points or more with Brady Skjei and Brandon Pirri knocking on the door with nine points. From a goal scoring perspective, the Blueshirts have six players with at least five goals.
A year ago they had two players. The continued development of J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider has been huge, and the emergence of Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich has been equally valuable. Newcomers Michael Grabner, Brandon Pirri and Mika Zibanejad have also hit the ground running while team veterans Derek Stepan, Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello continue to get the job done night after night.
Immediately it is evident how talented this team is, and despite shooting the lights out there isn’t much cause for concern for when that bubble does burst. The bubble will burst and at that point the Rangers’ goaltending will be back at the level fans expect. The tandem of Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta haven’t played poorly to date, but the duo usually is playing a little bit better. It is easy to get spoiled when you have a future Hall of Fame goaltender on the roster, and picking up wins when he isn’t at his best is an absurd luxury.
Here is a look at how Lundqvist and Raanta started out last season, their performance to date and the variance between the two seasons.
It may seem like an eye chart, so here are the bullet points of their numbers at 5v5.
- Lundqvist this season has faced 57 fewer shots 5v5 but has allowed eight more goals. His goals save above average is -13.98 which is an anomaly that won’t continue for the rest of the season. His overall save percentage is at 92.03 percent which is lower than the 96.10 he had the year prior. All things considered, he is off to a rough start by his standards and is due for a big turnaround.
- Raanta, on the other hand, has had more playing time, has seen 33 additional shots while allowing only six more goals. While six extra goals on 33 more shots isn’t an excellent ratio, his performance hasn’t cost the Blueshirts any games.
Overall what we can glean from this chart is that the goaltending has performed at a lower level than usual, and is due for a return to normality. When you combine an increase in goaltending and an eventual decrease in shooting percentage it is easy to see the Rangers falling into a nice sweet spot from a PDO perspective.
It is only 15 games in, but there is a lot to like about the Rangers. How far they go remains to be seen, but they certainly are in a position to be a dangerous playoff team. If general manager Jeff Gorton were to add a top-four puck moving defenseman without gutting the roster, it is fair to say this squad could be a serious cup contender.
Stats via Corsica.Hockey and Hockey-Reference unless otherwise noted.