The New York Rangers look like they are finding their game, having gone 5-0-1 in their past six, and 7-2-1 in their past 10. Coming off a brutal stretch in December that saw them win just four times, the Blueshirts were in dire need of a solid run of victories.
What’s perhaps most remarkable about the Rangers’ improved play of late is that it has largely come without the services of both Ryan McDonagh and Rick Nash, each of whom is currently sidelined with an injury.
So how and why are the Rangers winning more consistently? There are numerous reasons for their turnaround, but the overarching one is that their process and style of play are much better now than they were earlier in the season.
It’s About the Process
When the Rangers were in an awful rut in December, their biggest issues were on the defensive side of the puck. Frankly, their defensive issues had existed for most of the year, but goaltender Henrik Lundqvist played out of his mind in the early part of the season, helping to mask some of the club’s deficiencies. Over the long haul though, this was not a sustainable style of play for the Rangers to continue to adhere to if they wanted to be a contending team.
As Lundqvist inevitably came back down to earth, more light was shed on New York’s possession and coverage issues. Opponents were dominating puck possession against the Rangers, and eventually, the goals allowed started to pile up. As a result, Lundqvist’s confidence was shaken, as was that of his teammates. The Rangers were not just experiencing a slump; their system of play had completely broken down.
Thankfully though, New York slowly began to improve its play. Still though, in the short term, the team was still not stringing wins together, playing essentially .500 hockey for most of January. But the key was that their process and style of play had improved considerably. It was only a matter of time before the results reflected that, and sure enough the wins have become more consistent in mid-February.
The Underlying Numbers are Better
While “fancy stats” can be a very polarizing subject, it really is not a coincidence that the Rangers are winning games now. The statistics show that their shot suppression and puck possession have steadily gotten better after being abysmal for much of the season. Controlling possession on a consistent basis long-term will usually lead to a decisively winning record, which is starting to show.
To give some numbers behind the Rangers’ better possession statistics, we can compare their Corsi-for (i.e., shot attempts) and scoring chances for vs. against metrics for the month of December to those same metrics from January onward. (All of these statistics are from war-on-ice.com, and take into account score adjustments.)
In December, the Rangers’ average per-game Corsi-for percentage was a meager 49.4% (calculated by taking the straight average of each game’s individual percentage). Since then however, it has been a noticeably better 51.7%.
With respect to scoring chances, the Rangers generated an average of 19.4 scoring chances per game in December, while yielding 21.8. From January onward though, New York has found itself on the right side of that differential, averaging 21.6 scoring chances per game while giving up 20.4.
Better defense and a more consistently aggressive forecheck have led to better overall possession for the Rangers. Now they are starting to reap the benefits — that is, they are winning more games.