We are just over 24 hours until the New York Rangers face off against their little brother, the Long Island Islanders. I must give credit where credit is due though. The Isles are very well coached, they are a disciplined hockey team, and they play extremely solid defense in all three zones. Those three aspects are what drove them to the conference finals last year and is what will be needed once again if they want a chance to compete for a playoff spot in the hardest division in hockey.
The Rangers are the youngest team in the NHL and they are going to have some big time growing pains as the season progresses, which is why getting off to a hot start is a must. The Rags must take a step forward from last season in order to have success. I’ve come up with 3 keys to victory as we get ready to drop the puck.
- D-Zone coverage
Last year the New York Rangers had the worst d-zone coverage in the NHL. They allowed teams to penetrate the middle, they gave up grade A scoring opportunities, and they got broken down quicker than Hugh Jessiman’s NHL career. This year I am expecting things to be much different. Jacques Martin has been hired to replace Lindy Ruff. Martin is coming off a 5 year stint with the Pittsburgh Penguins which overachieved in the defensive market given the talent they had. Definitely a positive heading into a season where we didn’t even have a system in place. If it was up to me, look for the Rangers to defend from the inside out, taking away time and space, and being more physical on the puck. Structure is key against the highly touted offensive teams, so our boys need to defend as a unit and give up nothing through the middle. If we can manage to do that somewhat successfully, we will be on track to be a lot better in the d-zone than last year.
It’s no secret that games are often won and lost within the special teams department. The Rangers were a tale of two teams last season, which was the reason they hovered just out of the playoffs. First, the power play last year was very good. 22.9% was 7th best in the NHL. The Rangers were able to generate high quality chances and and finally had a few players that were able to quarterback. Look to Z and the Bread Man to lead the way once again. The Rangers will have to replicate this success if they expect to make the playoffs. The wheels came off when it came to the penalty kill. 77% was good enough for 23rd in league. Thats just not good enough. I really hope Coach Martin can implement something a bit better than 77%. The Rangers need to be around 82.5%. The Rangers lost Fast over the offseason and will have to fill his void. Again, the d-zone was atrocious for the Rangers, so I would expect big improvement.
Again, this isn’t a secret. There aren’t any magic tricks that this team needs to pull in order to be successful. D-zone, special teams, and now face-offs. The New York Rangers were 30th (yes, that’s second to last place) in the league last season. 46.6% is absolutely disgusting. I know the Rangers are weak down the middle, but that is pathetic. The Rangers were slightly better in the offensive zone, but this is a 3-zone stat. Face-offs equal puck possession and the Rangers have to be better. Faceoff % is becoming more and more relevant in the analytic world and for the Rangers there isn’t any finger pointing going on. From Mika to Howden, this is a team problem and it needs to be addressed. Possession isn’t easy to come by and giving the puck to your opponent to start every play is one way to lose hockey games.
If the New York Rangers can come into this season and address these key issues, I think they can really be a pain in the ass to play against. They have the offensive punch to compete with any team in the league let alone the East. Defensively, not so much. Limiting their opponents chances, cleaning up the PK, and creating more puck possession within their own game will work wonders for success. Hopefully Coach Martin and Head Coach David Quinn worked on these areas heading into tomorrow. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the 2021 NHL season!