Through the weekend, the New York Rangers sit comfortably in playoff position with a 45-24-3 record, good for 93 points. Even with a shaky blue line, the Rangers have still found ways to win the majority of their games. The main driving factor behind that has been their balanced scoring attack.
Rangers’ Offense Evenly Spread
The Rangers began the 2016-17 campaign on an absolute tear offensively. As the season has worn on, their offense has slowed down a bit, but they are still fifth in the NHL in goals per game at 3.17.
Normally, a high-scoring team would have at least one or two players near the top of the league in points. For the Rangers, however, their top scorer (J.T. Miller) does not appear in the league points ranking until after the top 40 names. Miller has 52 points (20 goals and 32 assists), which, while excellent for the 24-year-old forward and a great sign of growth, do not represent a spectacular total from a league-wide perspective.
Looking at things a little more deeply, though, underscores the fact that the Rangers can beat teams with contributions from any of a number of sources in any given game. The Blueshirts are one of only three teams with at least 10 players who have cracked the 30-point plateau this season. The other two are the dynamic Washington Capitals and Minnesota Wild, each with 11, but only 10 if you discount Kevin Shattenkirk and Martin Hanzal respectively, each of whom accumulated the majority of their points with their previous clubs prior to being traded.
For the Rangers, right behind Miller is Mats Zuccarello with 51 points (14 goals and 37 assists). Chris Kreider has a career-high 26 goals and 49 points. Derek Stepan, despite having recently endured an extended goal-scoring drought, has 48 points. Kevin Hayes has a career-high 46 points and has tied his career-high with 17 goals. Third-liner Michael Grabner incredibly leads the team with 27 goals (all at even strength or shorthanded) and has added 12 assists. Rick Nash has battled through nagging injuries to post 18 goals and 15 assists.
The Rangers, for all of their defensive deficiencies, are also getting offensive contributions from the blue line. Captain Ryan McDonagh is having his best all-around season since 2013-14 and has tallied 38 points (five goals and 33 assists). Nick Holden has been a surprise offensively with 10 goals and 21 helpers. Brady Skjei has had an outstanding rookie season, tallying four goals and 29 assists while becoming the Rangers’ most reliable defensive player besides McDonagh.
The Rangers still have threats below the 30-point mark. One is center Mika Zibanejad, who would have more than his current 28 points if not for a broken leg that sidelined him for 25 games earlier in the season. Rookie Jimmy Vesey has 15 goals and 25 points, while fellow rookie Pavel Buchnevich has 19 points in just 34 games.
Offense can come from a multitude of sources for the Rangers, which makes them a difficult team to defend.
The Importance of Four Skilled Lines
With a deep array of players who can find the scoresheet, the Rangers boast one of the best four-line attacks in the league. That advantage, however, only truly exists when head coach Alain Vigneault optimizes the lineup (i.e., does not dress Tanner Glass).
Without venturing too far down the Tanner Glass road again, the bottom line is that a skilled fourth line gives the Rangers a bigger advantage than one player who is known to bring toughness and grit via heavy hits and the occasional fight. Most teams do not have the depth of talent that the Rangers have, so when the Rangers roll out four skilled lines, it creates matchup problems everywhere. There is no clear line for opponents to focus on shutting down with their best defensive players. It really becomes a “pick your poison” situation.
In the Rangers’ previous contest against the Wild—yet another road win for the Blueshirts—the reconstructed fourth line of Oscar Lindberg, Buchnevich, and Vesey played a crucial role. Lindberg scored while finding himself on the ice momentarily with Miller and Nash. Later, the fourth-line trio connected for the game-winning marker, with Vesey scoring off assists from Lindberg and Buchnevich.
In a tight game against a good team, it was a skilled fourth line and overall depth that proved to be the difference for the Rangers. That’s what makes a team hard to defend, and it’s the type of lineup Vigneault needs to roll out regularly. If he does, then the Rangers could be a threat in the postseason.