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Last Saturday night’s 2-1 shootout victory over the lowly Arizona Coyotes represented a bit more than a hockey game. The game itself was another two points, unnecessarily struggled for, but two more points nonetheless. By the sound of the final whistle, it also officially marked the halfway point for the New York Rangers for this 2017-18 NHL season.
As has become customary, we’re going to take a look at individual player performances, broken down into five grading groups, as of the halfway mark of the season. Those groups break down as follows:
1. “Excelling” — A+ to A-
2. “Succeeding” — B+ to B-
3. “Treading Water” — C- to C+
4. “Drowning/Failing” — D to F
In the interest of not making things overly complicated, players will be graded in these groups so we don’t get too caught up in the minutia of arguing the differences between an A and an A-minus. Additionally, any player who has played in fewer than ten games, or has been re-assigned to the AHL, Junior hockey, or overseas (despite playing more than ten games, if possible) will receive an Incomplete grade given the lack of games played to adequately judge their play.
So, without further ado, I give you the 2017-18 ClearedForContact Halfway There Report Card — Defense & Goalies Edition:
Excelling (A+ to A-)
Henrik Lundqvist shook off a rocky start and has turned around his 2017-2018 season in a big way. Since falling to 2-4-0 with a .900 save percentage (SV%) and 3.12 goals against average (GAA) on October 31, Lundqvist has been on fire, posting a record of 17-6-2 with a .931 SV% and 2.33 GAA. He has achieved all of this while facing an average of 25 even strength shots per game and an average of five high-danger shots per game, third and fourth most in the league, respectively. In short, he has had to work for it.
Needless to say, Lundqvist has been one of the biggest, if not the biggest, parts of the Rangers’ run to being competitive in the Metropolitan Division playoff race. And if the Blueshirts have any postseason aspirations, they had better hope that King Henrik’s stellar play continues.
Succeeding (B+ to B-)
Marc Staal, the star of a fantastic feature piece by Mike Valvano, is performing quite well this season. As Mike pointed out, his play last season and in the playoffs somewhat dampened expectations that Staal would ever return to form, but he has been solid this year. He’s been relied on heavily by the Rangers coaching staff as the Rangers’ defensive specialist.
Perhaps to your surprise, Nick Holden finds himself in the same category he was last season, though not with the same level of offensive success. Much like Staal, after how things ended last season, it was reasonable to expect that Holden would struggle to even make the team. He still isn’t going to dazzle anyone with amazing possession stats – he’s checking in at a 45.4 even strength Corsi for percentage (CF%). But Holden has made himself quite serviceable for the Rangers. Perhaps this grade is a case of managing expectations, but I believe that’s exactly what you need to do when it comes to Nick Holden.
One thing that Staal and Holden have going in their favor is that they are contributing a lion’s share of the defensive effort towards the Rangers fifth ranked penalty kill, which has been a mainstay of their recent success. Staal is leading the team in short-handed TOI/G and Holden is right up there in fourth.
Not to be outdone, Brady Skjei has also been quite good for the Rangers. Among Rangers defenseman at even strength, he is leading the blue line in possession with a 46.95 corsi for percentage (CF%) and is tied for second in scoring with two goals and 11 assists. He’s contributing 1:15 time on ice per game (TOI/G) to the penalty kill. He’s getting a taste of power play time as well, which has netted him two assists in 56 seconds TOI/G. Not bad for a 23 year-old in his second full NHL season.
If you take a look only at his record, Ondrej Pavelec’s 3-5-0 is rather lackluster. But digging a bit deeper, you’ll see that he has performed quite admirably given his workload. In the eight games he started, he has thrown up a .930 SV% and has faced an average of 35 total shots per game. Like Lundqvist, he has had to work for it. Given his body of work, it could be much, much worse. So I’m going to have to take a mea culpa on this one. If the Rangers can manage to find a way for their goalies not to be shelled on a nightly basis, then Pavelec will find success if his good play continues.
Treading Water (C+ to C-)
Early in the season, the Rangers power play was rolling at an insane clip and, despite the consistent losing, many fans pointed to that as a diamond in the rough. Then, strangely, as the team started winning, their powerplay fell apart. On the blueline, captain Ryan McDonagh and free-agent darling Kevin Shattenkirk can be pointed to as culprits.
Ryan McDonagh is second among Rangers defenseman in powerplay minutes, yet he has no goals and just four assists on the man advantage to show for it. Three of those assists came in the first 21 games of the season, too.
Kevin Shattenkirk, along with Mika Zibanejad, were main contributors to the Rangers’ early powerplay success. But as time has worn on, Shattenkirk’s magic seems to have fizzled out. In a story similar to McDonagh’s, Shattenkirk booked a large portion of his twelve total power play points in the first 21 games, adding only three more assists since then. Unfortunately for the Rangers, Shattenkirk is very much a one-trick pony, as evidenced by his power play minutes (3:16 per game) and offensive zone start percentage (64.2%). He doesn’t kill penalties, in fact he leads the team in minor penalty minutes, and his even-strength play leaves a lot to be desired. So when the power play is not working, neither is Shattenkirk.
McDonagh, on the other hand, has slightly more going for him. Similar to Staal and Holden, he has been a stalwart on the penalty-kill while booking slightly more than three minutes per game shorthanded. Despite that, his powerplay failings and average even-strength play have dragged down his usually all-around exquisite play.
Drowning/Failing (D to F)
With a fresh four-year, $17.4 million contract in his pocket, one would assume Brendan Smith would have continued to provide the steady hand he possessed in the Rangers’ 2017 playoffs campaign. However, Smith made it two games into the regular season before being a healthy scratch for two straight games. Nine lackluster performances later, he was sent to the press box again – this time for six straight games. Most recently, he was scratched once again against Vegas in the Rangers’ last game prior to the week-long break. Hopes were high for Smith to bring stability to the middle-pairing of the Rangers’ back end. Instead, he has provided lackluster play with major defensive miscues at inopportune times that have kept him on the outside looking in for a quarter of the season thus far. Further, he’s second on the team in minor penalties taken, which only adds to the burden Smith puts on the team.
It’s usually not a good sign if you’re an outlier on an already pretty bad defense corps. Steve Kampfer’s 42.64 CF% at five-on-five is by far the worst on the Rangers’ roster and is 15th worst in the entire league! It’s truly a toss-up between Smith and Kampfer as to who is the worst defenseman on the Rangers this season. I’m going to give the edge to Smith since he had much higher expectations and Kampfer has only played 14 games. Unfortunately the state of the Rangers’ defense has Smith and Kampfer fighting for the last roster spot in the lineup. One hopes that one of them has a revelation so the Rangers can begin to take strides towards making life a little easier on their netminders.
Anthony DeAngelo met the minimum games played requirement, but he was sent to the Hartford Wolf Pack on October 24.