New York Rangers are the first team to clinch a playoff spot

Dan Boyle celebrates his first period goal against the Senators with the Rangers' bench.
Jana Chytilova/NHLI via Getty Images

By Andrew Wainwright

On Thursday the New York Rangers were the first team in the NHL to clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The win came agains the red-hot Ottawa Senators and their sensational rookie goaltender, Andrew Hammond. The Rangers currently sit atop the league with 101 points and have nine games remaining. This means they have three games in hand on the second place Anaheim Ducks (also 101 points), two games in hand on the third and fourth place Nashville Predators and Montreal Canadiens (100 points each), and one game in hand against the 5th place St. Louis Blues (99 points). Given their current lead in the standings, their hot play (8-2 in last 10), and the fact they have the most games remaining of the other top contenders, the Rangers are the odds on favorite to win the Presidents’ Trophy. The only thing that could stop them from winning it is losing their remaining games.

The Rangers have a relatively challenging schedule for their last nine games. Six of the Rangers’ last nine games will be against teams in playoffs contention: Boston Bruins (away), Washington Capitals (away/home), Winnipeg Jets (away), Minnesota Wild (away), New Jersey Devils (home/away), Columbus Blue Jackets (home), and the Ottawa Senators (home). The Rangers’ remaining schedule could pose problems, as all of these teams, with the exception of Columbus and New Jersey, are in contention for their Conference’s wild card spots. This means that while the Rangers have clinched a playoff berth, the last six of their nine games will be against teams who will be fighting to make the playoffs and playing their best hockey of the season. While winning the President’s Trophy is great, it doesn’t necessarily mean playoff success. The Rangers should focus on these games as preparing and staying healthy for the post-season. The Rangers can and should win the President’s Trophy, but not at the expense of hindering their playoff chances with fatigue and injury.

Reasons for success

The Rangers have not dominated the entire season as they have been of late. In their first 15 games, the Rangers were 7-6-2 and in the bottom half of the the Eastern Conference. However since then, the Rangers have been able to bounce back. The Rangers have a great team, and Rangers General Manager Glen Sather has done a good job keeping his team competitive despite the team underwent in the offseason because of the salary cap.

Head coach Alain Vigneault should also be given a lot of credit for the work he has done with this team since taking over in 2013-2014. The Rangers are 5th in league scoring with 224 goals for, first in the league for goals against with 163 and have a +61 goal differential (1st in league).

The Rangers are arguably one of the deepest teams in the NHL. On offense, the Rangers have three lines that can all contribute consistently; Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Martin St. Louis, Rick Nash-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello, Carl Hagelin-Kevin Hayes-JT Miller/ Jesper Fast.

In addition, the Rangers have a fourth line that can contribute offensively, and is great for killing penalties and wearing down the other team in Tanner Glass-Dominic Moore-James Sheppard.

The resurgence of Rick Nash as a consistent goal scorer (39 goals in 72 GP) has a been a huge boost for the Rangers. Nash has been in a scoring slump of late, and the Rangers will need him to continue to produce in the playoffs.

In addition to scoring, the Rangers have the best defense corps in the NHL. The Rangers’ defense has a balance of offensive and shut-down defenseman with Ryan McDonagh, Keith Yandle, Dan Boyle, Kevin Klein,Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. Klein has been a pleasant surprise for the Rangers, as he has set career highs and leads the Rangers defense in goals and points (9 G, 26 P). Dan Boyle has been a bit of a disappointment, considering his 9 G and 19 P are his worst numbers in almost 15 seasons but nonetheless, Boyle has been a good acquisition for the Rangers.

New York Rangers Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist

Finally, the Rangers have absolutely terrific goaltending. In 39 starts this season, starting goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has posted a .922% save percentage and a 25-11-3 record. In 32 starts this season, backup goaltender Cam Talbot has posted a .928% save percentage and a 20-8-4 record. Since Lundqvist was injured, many critics were worried that the Rangers’ would suffer in Lundqvist’s absence. However, Talbot proved the critics wrong, posting great numbers for the Rangers and keeping the Rangers at the top of the league standings. The Rangers have arguably the best goalie tandem in the NHL, and that will greatly help them in the playoffs.

Potential weaknesses

While the Rangers have a great coach in Alain Vigneault and tremendous roster depth, the team still has some weaknesses. Probably their biggest weakness is puck possession. The Rangers currently sit 19th in the NHL in puck possession, with a SAT% of 49.95%. While that isn’t terrible, it isn’t exactly what you would expect to see from a team that just clinched the first playoff spot. This is also important considering puck possession is arguably one of the most important aspects of playoff hockey. The Los Angeles Kings are a perfect example of this. In last season’s playoffs, the Kings won the Stanley Cup and were first in SAT% at 56.8%. They beat the Rangers in the final, and thats when the Rangers had a higher SAT% than they have now (52.4%, 7th in NHL).

Of course, one could ask, “How have the Rangers been so successful if they have been below 50% in terms of puck possession?” To answer that, look at the Rangers shooting and save percentages. The Rangers are 4th in the league for team average shot percentage with 9.6%, while the league average is 8.7%. Also, the Rangers rank third in the league for average team save percentage with .926%, while the league average is .914%. Some would say their high shot and save percentages will save the Rangers, but that is unlikely. This is because these statistics are based on the entire league. In the playoffs, the Rangers will be playing against the best teams in the NHL, and it is very unlikely the Rangers will be able to sustain these numbers. That is why puck possession is so important. There is a correlation between teams with high possession numbers and playoff success, but that doesn’t mean that a certain amazing goaltender (Lundqvist!) could change the course of a game or series.

In addition to their problems with puck possession, the Rangers do not have a great power-play. They are currently ranked 21st in the NHL at 17.41%, and ranked 28th in power-play opportunities (201). On the other hand, their penalty-kill has been good and is currently ranked 8th (84.11%). They also do not take many penalties, as they are ranked 8th in the league for power-plays against (214). The Rangers need their power-play to be successful as their average team shot percentage is bound to decrease in the playoffs.

The Rangers have a great roster and coach, but unless they are able to possess the puck and control the tempo of the game, they will not have success against the top teams in the NHL during the long playoff run. If they are able to better possess the puck, they should make a deep playoff push. That is assuming everyone comes to play and the team is able to keep injuries to a minimum. 

 

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