At the trade deadline, the Rangers sent away the man who led the team in goal scoring the prior year. A man who averaged over 30 goals per season throughout his NHL career, breaking the 40-goal mark twice with the Rangers.
Who’d have thought that his departure would have kick-started the team’s power play?
Before the trade deadline, the team was plodding along near the bottom of the league with a lowly 14.3% power play. Since then, they’ve been firing at an impressive 45.5%, having gone 5-for-11 in their past three games. They scored a season-high three goals with the man advantage on Wednesday against the Penguins — a mark they hadn’t reached since exactly one year earlier on April 3, 2012 against the Philadelphia Flyers. Ryane Clowe and Derick Brassard, each playing in their first game with the Rangers, were on the ice for all three of the team’s power play markers.
Thanks to the team’s recent inspired efforts, the Rangers’ power play has moved up to 19th in the league. Their 17.3% conversion rate is slightly better than the 17.2% posted by the Chicago Blackhawks, the team currently leading the league in points. At least they’re in better company now than when they were rubbing elbows with the Sabres at the bottom of the power-play barrel.
The Rangers’ Power Play Struggles
The stagnant, lifeless powerplay that plagued the Rangers all season seems to be gone, perhaps following Gaborik or one of the many draft picks sent out the door on deadline day. Maybe Clowe, Brassard, and Moore came in and exorcised those power play demons, chasing them off with hard work and physical play.
The Rangers’ power play just never seemed to get on track. The worse it got, the harder player tried. Rather than making simple plays, they looked for the ‘perfect’ play. Instead of shooting the puck, the Rangers passed it around the perimeter. It looked like each player figured one of the other talented skaters would make something happen. Collectively indecisive, players rarely made a play. Nothing happened. Call it power play paralysis.
The spell appears to be broken.
A Man-Advantage Turnaround
The new-look Rangers took to the ice on deadline night with what appeared to be less firepower, at least on paper. On the ice, though, the team was greater than the sum of its players’ stats. The Blueshirts brought their A-game to the ice. More specifically, to the top of the Penguins’ crease, where 6’7″, 244-pound Brian Boyle set up shop. Boyle averaged just 0:15 of power play time per game all season, but found his way on the ice for 2:14 with the man advantage. He took full advantage, playing a part in each of the team’s three power play goals.
Here he makes a key assist and watches Brassard’s top-shelf backhand goal from the best seat on the ice… literally.
Instead of staying on the outside and moving the puck, the Rangers’ power play began to focus on moving bodies. Players cycled down low and battled along the boards. When the puck went to the corner, they overloaded the side. When the puck went back to the point, the team fired it back towards the net. Instead of waiting for the ‘perfect’ play, the Rangers began to make their own plays – however imperfect. Scoring chances became shots, and shots became goals.
Saturday against the Hurricanes, the Rangers’ power play again played a factor. The team went 2-for-5, opening the scoring on a power play goal by Derek Stepan.
After the game, Rick Nash spoke about the changes within the team’s approach when up a man: “I think we’re getting shots to the net. [We’re] getting the initial shot, hunting down pucks, and it seems to be clicking right now.”
That’s exactly what Nash and his linemates did midway through the second period against the Hurricanes, when the puck found Mats Zuccarello. He, in turn, found Rick Nash in the slot.
John Tortorella spoke after the game about the turnaround in the team’s power play:
“I think some of the personnel [are] playing better. [Mats Zuccarello] has added something to it and we’re finding a way to score goals. There’s been much more puck possession. Some of the times when we were struggling, we were getting chances and we weren’t scoring. We’re scoring on it now at key times in games and the personnel is certainly playing better. [Derick Brassard] comes in here and he adds something to it. [Ryane] Clowe and Brian Boyle are doing some good work in front of the net and the other guys are finding their way.”
Whatever the reason, there’s a definite change to the way the Rangers are playing – especially on the man advantage. Their power play has helped them earn five of a possible six points since the trade deadline. It’s exactly the kind of offensive boost the Rangers needed to secure their playoff spot and to build momentum going into the postseason.
Yes, a working power play was the best thing the Rangers could’ve hoped to acquire at the deadline. It looks like that’s what they did.