New York Rangers @ Edmonton Oilers by Karan Bawa
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Rangers Need to Find Scoring Touch Again

Phil Kocher

Managing Editor of Cleared for Contact.

I believe in Nate Silver, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Christopher Hitchens, and hockey analytics. Blogging between diaper changes.

It’s hard to imagine, but despite being fourth in the league in G/GP at 3.18, and fourth in 5-on-5 goals (139) this season, the Rangers seem to be having a bit of trouble finding the back of the net of late.

In their last ten games, they are averaging just 2.2 G/GP. That is roughly an entire goal fewer per game than their seasonal average, and that number is starker over their last seven starts where they’re scoring an average of 1.85 G/GP. In fact, they’ve scored more than two goals in a game just once in their last nine—an overtime affair against the Devils back on February 25th.

Worse yet, what little scoring is occurring is happening almost entirely at even strength, as the Rangers power play has fallen through the proverbial floor. Their power play has failed to capitalize in its last 19 attempts and has capitalized just three times in its last 52 attempts (5.8%).

Their last power play tally—a Jimmy Vesey goal—came in the 4-2 loss against the Islanders on February 16th in which they went 1-for-4 on the night.

While the sample size is relatively small, the 5.8% conversion rate over their last 52 attempts is more than twice as futile when compared to the league’s worst man advantage club, the Detroit Red Wings, who are playing with a seasonal average of just 12.9%.

While the Blueshirts’ seasonal power play average is 18.1%, its fallen considerably from earlier points this season. They were 7th in the league at 22% at the 20-game mark and were as high as 4th (22.9%) at the halfway point of the season. Since then they’ve fallen to 18th, nestled between the Anaheim Ducks, Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, and New Jersey Devils. Of that group, only the Ducks and Kings are in a playoff position as of today, and the Kings’ hold on the second Wild Card position is a tenuous one at best. They lead the Blues by just one point.

This might be a survivable performance for now, but it may not be when the playoffs come around.

The Importance of a PP in the Playoffs

If the Rangers plan on making some noise in the playoffs this Spring, it’s important this ship is righted, because recent history isn’t very kind to teams whose power play is this unreliable when the postseason rolls around.

Boston Bruins fans, as an example, might be quick to note that the Bruins won a Stanley Cup back in 2011 despite the team owning an 11.4% power play that Spring—the 14th worst conversion rate of the 16 teams who qualified for the playoffs that season. But that Bruins club was something of an exception to the rule.

Since the 2004-05 lockout, seven of eleven Cup winners won with a functional power play, where just four of eleven won a championship without one, or with an especially poor one:

Year Team Playoffs PP%
2015-16 Pittsburgh Penguins 23.4%
2014-15 Chicago Blackhawks 17.9%
2013-14 Los Angeles Kings 23.5%
2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks 11.4%
2011-12 Los Angeles Kings 12.8%
2010-11 Boston Bruins 11.4%
2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks 22.5%
2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins 20.6%
2007-08 Detroit Red Wings 18.9%
2006-07 Anaheim Ducks 15.2%
2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes 24.0%

Drawing back on the focus to account for all four clubs who advanced beyond their respective Conference Final, what we find is that more often than not, the club with the superior power play in each series advanced over their opponent:

Year Eastern Conference Final Western Conference Final
2015-16 Pittsburgh Penguins (21.1%)
v. Tampa Bay Lightning (16.7%)
San José Sharks (19.0%)
v. St. Louis Blues (23.5%)
2014-15 Tampa Bay Lightning (31.8%)
v. New York Rangers (29.2%)
Chicago Blackhawks (13.6%)
v. Anaheim Ducks (14.3%)
2013-14 New York Rangers (319.2%)
v. Montréal Canadiens (8.7%)
Los Angeles Kings (35.3%)
v. Chicago Blackhawks (21.1%)
2012-13 Boston Bruins (0.0%)
v. Pittsburgh Penguins (0.0%)
Chicago Blackhawks (8.3%)
v. Los Angeles Kings (6.7%)
2011-12 New Jersey Devils (11.1%)
v. New York Rangers (36.4%)
Los Angeles Kings (10.5%)
v. Phoenix Coyotes (12.5%)
2010-11 Boston Bruins (12.5%)
v. Tampa Bay Lightning (22.7%)
Vancouver Canucks (37.5%)
v. San José Sharks (31.8%)
2009-10 Philadelphia Flyers (25.0%)
v. Montréal Canadiens (6.3%)
Chicago Blackhawks (27.3%)
v. San José Sharks (21.4%
2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins (17.6%)
v. Carolina Hurricanes (8.3%)
Detroit Red Wings (27.8%)
v. Chicago Blackhawks (28.6%)
2007-08 Pittsburgh Penguins (27.8%)
v. Philadelphia Flyers (17.6%)
Detroit Red Wings (20.0%)
v. Dallas Stars (8.7%)
2006-07 Ottawa Senators (15.4%)
v. Buffalo Sabres (6.9%)
Anaheim Ducks (9.5%)
v. Detroit Red Wings (26.9%)
2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes (23.1%)
v. Buffalo Sabres (20.0%)
Edmonton Oilers (17.2%)
v. Anaheim Ducks (7.7%)

*Series winners are depicted in bold. Blue percentages were superior power play percentages. Red percentages were inferior power play percentages.

Now, we can’t go so far as to say the power play was the most important reason why these teams won, but it was certainly an edge given that 14 of the 22 series played saw the team with the superior power play advance to the Cup Final. That’s just shy of a 65% margin.

While it’s not exactly a death knell to not have an especially good power play, the odds certainly skew more positively to those with one than those without.

If the Rangers maintain their pace and finish the season fourth in the Metropolitan division, they are likely to avoid certain disaster awaiting them or anyone else set to run the Metro gauntlet in the form of the Capitals, Penguins, and Blue Jackets. However, while an easier path to a Conference Final likely lies through the Atlantic, if these scoring issues persist, particularly on the man advantage, a first-round matchup against the Canadiens, who the Rangers failed to defeat in three attempts this season, or the Senators, who own a shutout against the Rangers in one of the two meetings they’ve had, might be just as disastrous.

A reliable power play can be all the difference in the postseason where even strength goal-scoring can dry up and the margin between wins and losses can often be just one goal.

In recent years, where the Stanley Cup winner has typically relied on their power play to help them win the close games necessary to advance each round, the Rangers of late have reverted to the previous season’s failings with the man advantage. What was once a strength that helped keep them atop the NHL in terms of goals per game is now a glaring weakness. The juggernaut Blueshirts of the first half of this season have won just once in regulation in their last seven games and the lack of an effective power play is a big reason why. If they don’t get that sorted soon, they will likely skid into the playoffs rather than charging in as they were poised to.

Perhaps it isn’t a full-blown crisis just yet, but the precedent being set over the last dozen games or so isn’t one conducive to winning, and isn’t one anyone should accept.

Phil Kocher
Managing Editor of Cleared for Contact. I believe in Nate Silver, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Christopher Hitchens, and hockey analytics. Blogging between diaper changes.
http://www.philkocher.com

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