Breaking down the New York Rangers, Fancy Stats Style

NYR Head Coach Alaine Vigneault (via NHL.com)

Ten contests into the eighty-two game NHL season, and the New York Rangers look good. Great? No. Bad? Certainly not. Before we drop the puck for Broadway’s eleventh match tonight, I’d like to examine a few points as to the state of Rangerstown.

1. This is the 16th best start (out of 90 seasons) in New York Rangers history.

Okay, so 16th out of 90 isn’t a phenomenal feat; yet it’s not too shabby, either. But consider the historical context: when accruing 13+ standings points in the opening 10 games of a season, the Rangers have made the playoffs 90% of the time. So the off-season expectancy of this season’s squad being playoff-bound continues to hold water, at least in this early stage of the season. In fact, this season’s initial 10 games have been more successful than those in 1993, 1996, 2011, 2013 & 2014; the last five times the Rangers have graced the Eastern Conference Finals.

2. Henrik Lundqvist has shaken his October demons. 

Lundqvist (Getty)

Lundqvist (Getty)

A stark contrast from previous prior opening months of seasons past, Lundqvist has played superb netminding right out of the gate. He leads the league in Goalie Point Share (2.5) and Save Percentage (.941; minimum 150 shots against). This, coupled with a few factors, are overwhelming positives for Rangers fans to interpret:

A) Backup goalie Antti Raanta has looked strong in both of his (Rangers debut) games, going 2-0 with a .978 sv% & 0.50 GAA. This seems to be setting the stage for Lundqvist to be comfortably used without overuse and fatigue.

B) Lundqvist’s injury in February, which caused him to miss 25 games, could be producing fruitfulness this season as Lundqvist has traditionally played his fullest following rest. Are Lundqvist’s current numbers sustainable? Probably not; but that doesn’t mean they’re totally unrealistic, either.

Even if his save percentage drops to .920 or .930, the Rangers’ current standing of scoring 2.8 goals per game (currently 10th in the NHL) would likely outweigh his 2015-16 GAA (his highest in the past 5 years is 2.38). The long-term question of ‘when does Lundqvist start to regress?’ seems to have fallen a few notches from the summer thoughts, despite Hank turning 34 years of age next March.

3. Getting into the Fancy Stats

Goaltending aside, the Rangers have done a great job limiting opponents’ quality scoring chances.

Among the rivaling clubs in the East, the Rangers are 2nd in PDO (Offensive Shooting Percentage + Defensive Save Percentage) as well as allowing the 2nd fewest High-Danger Scoring Chances Against per Hour. While goaltending plays a small part in these statistics, invariably the skaters in front should be accredited with scoring goals and limiting dangerous defensive lapses.

We see the Rangers are south of the hemispherical 50% Corsi mark, yet along with Montreal, are the lone East teams with negative corsi but remain stingy on High-Danger Scoring Chances Against per Hour. Again, this has less direct correlation to goaltending (although rebound control is certainly a factor in opponents’ high quality chances), and more with the skaters (particularly New York’s defensemen).

And conversely, when it comes to High-Danger Scoring Chances FOR per Hour, the Rangers seem to generate more of these offensive opportunities than defensive lapses. You know how a team like this can have earned 70% of possible standings points without Rick Nash or Chris Kreider scoring goals? Because the teams as a whole has been creating more opportunities than it has been leasing them out to opponents.

The Rangers’ defense, while far from perfect, have been finding ways to get the job done.

An unsurprising piece of visual data at this point: Boyle, Klein & Yandle have been on the ice when most of the team’s quality scoring chances, earning high Corsi marks. Girardi & Staal are the opposite, usually on the ice when shots are taken against the team, with low Corsi. Boyle and McDonagh are in the middle. Give or take, this is a pretty accurate illustration of what most of us were expecting in the off-season.

We should note that since Boyle was benched in the 3rd game of the season versus Winnipeg, his Corsi numbers have improved greatly.

While goaltending may be unsustainably hot right now (not to say its inexplicably hot and due to crash too far back to Earth), it seems overall goal-scoring is right around what we were expecting. This summer I predicted the roster, as-is, to score 227 goals. The 82-game projection is 230. The snakebitten starts to Nash, Kreider & McDonagh withstanding.

Conclusion?

Those who labeled (or continue to label) the Rangers as a bubble team should re-consider. The team has been showing steady, well-earned results throughout October, even with a few adjustments and hiccups throughout. The roster creates more chances than it concedes. The goaltending projects to be damn good. And since the demotion of Tanner Glass, the team looks to have comfortable cap space for any trade deadline adjustments a playoff-bound team may want to make (The Rangers’ actual salary cap space as of today is $1,176,040). As long as the squad continues to remotely play as they have, they seem a surely good bet for the playoffs.

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