With over 20% of the 2022-23 campaign in the books, now is the time to take stock of Rangers’ position. After making minimal additions in free agency and selecting internal replacements for their additions from the previous trade deadline, there was reason to believe they would see similar results to last season’s team.
For those who need a reminder, the 2021-22 Rangers have been a very poor team at the same strength for most of the season. Deadline acquisitions by Andrew Cobb, Frank Vatrano, and Tyler Mott helped boost the team’s forward depth and resulted in better play down the field, but to a large extent, the team was executed by Igor Shesterkin’s Vezina Trophy-winning goaltending and strong special teams play.
New York will fall short of the necessary 97 points if it maintains its current pace. For a team that won 52 games and reached the Eastern Conference Finals last season, it can be unnerving to think about. However, a deeper dive into the numbers behind the team’s pedestrian start to the season gives more reason to encourage rather than discourage Rangerstown residents:
The biggest difference between Rangers’ early-season play this year compared to last year is that although the record doesn’t reflect that, they’re playing better. There have been a few clunkers so far, and the home games against Detroit, San Jose, and Boston stand out in this category, but overall the team has seen huge improvements.
The higher quotas for shots, shots on goal and predicted goals are a pleasant surprise given the lack of unexpected roster reshaping moves. For those who aren’t particularly interested in shooting-based metrics, team goal differentials are better despite the lower shooting and save percentages we’ve seen so far.
The Blueshirts weren’t able to find the net as often as last year and were getting fewer saves than the goalkeepers, but they managed to improve their goal difference while still ending up with a poorer record. How does something like this happen? Well, the Rangers are 21-22 5-1-3 in one-goal games decided by 17 games while they are 5-3-0 by two goals in multi-goal games, their three losses being by four, four, and six goals respectively. When they lost, they exploded.
This season, the team is 2-2-3 in a one-goal game, but they’ve gone 6-4-0 by seven goals in multi-goal games so far. After hitting 40+ shots on goal four times throughout the entirety of last season, the Rangers have already achieved the feat five times this season, with two more games in 39 SOG. Sometimes you run into a hot goalkeeper, and the likes of Winnipeg’s Conor Helbwick, Islanders’ Ilya Sorokin, and Nashville’s Joss Sarros are the caliber of goalies who could steal a game on any given night, and these three did just that. To the Rangers so far, and not to worry as the season progresses.
Special teams units are slightly weaker than they have been over the full 2021-22 season, but not weak enough to be the reason the Rangers are where they are now. Saturday’s 0/5 showing of power plays against Nashville left a lot to be desired, but this was the only game out of the previous five that the Blueshirts didn’t score at least one power play goal.
It can be frustrating to hear people, Whether they are players or analystsSay “we just don’t get the rebound right now” when a team is struggling to win one-goal games with any consistency, but there’s a lot of truth to that. Looking at Sunday’s game against Arizona, the Wolves have been skating circles around the Rangers for the first half of that contest. They were up 20-4 halfway through the second half and were wearing their blue jerseys. Igor Shesterkin kept the game from spiraling out of control until a completely loose puck on Barclay Goodrow’s stick slid into the hole with a clear shooting lane, and the team never looked back from there.
On a more in-depth level, there are a few issues the Rangers will need to work out. Just like last season, New York players have a bad habit of getting buried in their end of the ice on a regular basis. With the exception of Jimmy Vesey, (which was a very pleasant surprise for a player some didn’t want to take the roster out of camp) the rest of the fourth line players struggled.
Sammy Blais didn’t look good, Ryan Carpenter wasn’t a factor, and Ryan Reeves is still one of the worst players to skate a regular rotation in the NHL. Individually, Julien Gauthier has made a handful of nice plays since being called up and has looked fine overall, but his shot on the ice and lucky nuances paint a less rosy picture. Assuming the Rangers are in the midst of a playoff race later in the season, they will need to hire strikers again.
The Jacob Trouba-K’Andre Miller pairing has fared poorly in the goals department, but the underlying numbers suggest that this is bad luck rather than consistently bad play thus far. Meanwhile, the third pairing of Braden Sneijder alongside Libor Hajik or Zack Jones was the opposite, with good on-ice scores overshadowing negative shots and scoring chances disparities. Hajk’s struggles as an NHLer have been well documented, As did Schneiderbut whether Jones’ poor results were a product of his own play or being paired with sub-par players is up for debate.
What is not up for debate is that Rangers are playing well so far. An 8-6-3 record may raise red flags for some, but one winning streak can change that outlook in a quick way. Last year’s team snapped seven straight wins after losing their 17th game, and this team fell far short of the current team. The Rangers will not continue to run into goalkeepers to hold out more than 40 times every two nights. When that stops, and it will stop, the gains will start piling up again.