The New York Rangers are slowly but surely moving in the right direction. New York has won two games in a row, they’re back to .500, and Henrik Lundqvist has looked very sharp in both of those wins. Additionally, Rick Nash is continuing his stellar play, Matt Hunwick has filled the open void on defense quite well, newcomers such as Kevin Hayes and Lee Stempniak are meeting, if not exceeding expectations, and the Rangers are fresh off of a huge 4-0 win against a very good San Jose Sharks team. However, there’s one part of the Rangers’ game that is still far from clicking, and that is their power play.
The Rangers have now played six games this season, and despite 17 opportunities with the man-advantage, the Rangers have yet to cash in. The Rangers are joined only by Winnipeg, Buffalo, and Minnesota, who are all also still without a power play goal.
— The Broadway Hat (@TheBroadwayHat) October 19, 2014
And yet despite their inability to make other teams pay for their lack of discipline, lack of success on the power play is not something the Rangers, and their fans, are strangers to. In fact, the last time the Rangers finished a season higher than 15th in the league on the power play was in 2009-10 when they finished 13th, and scored 18.6% of the time.
You’d have to go back even further to the 2006-07 season to find the last time a Rangers team finished in the top 10 in the league on the power play. That year the Rangers converted 18.5% of the time, and ranked 8th in the NHL.
In 2013-14, the Rangers began their tenure under the guidance of Alain Vigneault. Rangers’ fans rejoiced at the arrival of Vigneault in the hopes that his more open, offensively friendly system would lead to a better, more successful power play. But as had been the case in years past, the Rangers under Vigneault still couldn’t find the spark for their power play.
The Rangers finished the 2013-14 campaign again in the middle of the pack, sitting comfortably at 15th, with only a moderately efficient power play which converted 18.2 percent of the time.
Even during New York’s unlikely run to the Stanley Cup Final last spring, the Rangers weren’t exactly feared when they were on the power play. The Rangers power play was in fact less efficient during their playoff run than it was during the regular season, as the Rangers only scored at a 12.6% rate; 5.6% less efficient than they were during the regular season. All that said, it’s really quite remarkable the success the Rangers have had in recent years even without a truly dangerous power play.
The Struggles Continue
In the early going of this new season, the Rangers’ struggles on the power play have clearly carried over, but this time there is a reasonable explanation.
It’s no secret that the Rangers have been plagued by injuries during the start of this season. First it was top-line center Derek Stepan who went down with a broken fibula during training camp. Next it was the offensive-minded defenseman Dan Boyle. Boyle was signed to a two-year deal in the hopes that he would be the quarterback on the power play, and be the piece that solved the power play puzzle which would bring the Rangers from a mediocre power play team at best, to team that generated serious opportunities every time with the man-advantage. Boyle broke his hand on opening night, and will be sidelined at least another two weeks, possibly longer.
The loss of Brad Richards also cannot be understated. While Richards never quite lived up to the large expectations under the bright lights of Broadway, he was a key piece to the Rangers’ power play over the last three seasons.
Just last season, Richards, Stepan, and Boyle combined for 55 power play points. While none of those numbers is dominant, those are numbers that present Ranger power play unit could use, and certainly could be helpful towards ridding the Rangers of the giant goose egg their power play is currently sitting on.
Richards of course departed for Chicago, but Stepan and Boyle are both in New York, and seeing as one is a first-line center, and the other has been known for his power play prowess on other teams, it’s safe to say that they are key pieces which are missing on the current Rangers power play unit.
It certainly is not encouraging that without those two, the Rangers seem to be dead in the water when operating on the power play. It would seem somewhat safe to say, however, that once Stepan and Boyle do return, the Rangers just might be able to bring back power, and end the blackout that’s seemingly struck Midtown Manhattan.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.