New York Rangers longterm scoring success will depend on rebounds

The New York Rangers need to start shooting for rebounds. It’s going to be integral for them to do so in order to have a successful season.

At the surface it seems absolutely insane to say that shooting to score in a sport like hockey, where scoring chances and goals are hard to come by, is a negative for a team not tanking for Connor Bedard. But if you peel back the layers, not every shot is created equal, which can be noted by everyone’s favorite stat; Expected Goals.

According to Alison Lukan, who covers the Seattle Kraken, expected goals can be defined as a formula that considers a variety of factors and then mathematically assigns a value to each shot attempt that represents the probability of that shot becoming a goal.The highest form of expected goals, in other words, the shot that gives a team the most likelihood of scoring comes from right in front of the net.

New York Rangers need to shoot for rebounds

new york rangers
Dec 22, 2022; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin (10) celebrates his power play goal against New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) with Rangers left wing Chris Kreider (20) and center Vincent Trocheck (16) and center Mika Zibanejad (93) during the first period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The evolution of shooting in the NHL can be linked to the use of advanced analytics in sports. Take basketball for example, five to 10 years ago, mid-ranged jump shots littered the court until math got involved and revealed that mid-range jumpers were highly inefficient and that three pointers and shots around the rim are the most efficient for a team’s offense. The league found that out, and scoring is up.

It’s the same thing happening in the NHL now. This heatmap from hockeyviz.com shows the trend in shots from the 2009-10 season and how it has changed and evolved compared to the 2019-20 season. Hockey has grown into less shooting from the tops of the circle and trying to beat goaltenders straight up (Shooting to score), into D-men firing away from the blueline looking for deflections or shooting into the goalies pads to create a rebound (Shooting for rebounds).

New York Rangers heat map
New York Rangers heat map via Hockey Viz

Let’s now take a look at the New York Rangers and their 5-on-5 numbers when it comes to shooting and shot quality. This season, through January 1st, the Rangers are 31st in the NHL in rebound shots for and rebound goals for at even strength while being 11th in the league in shots on goal. New York has not done enough to get to high danger areas. The team ranks tied for 26th in the league at even strength in high danger shots for with a mere 59, even with Philadelphia and Minnesota, who are both at the bottom third in the league in even strength goals.

Oddly enough, this trend flips on its head when the Blueshirts are on the man advantage. So far this season the Rangers rank tied for 3rd in the league in rebound shots for on the power play with a very good Ottawa Senators unit, yet one instance on an overtime power play against Tampa Bay has sparked this conversation. Do the Rangers shoot to score too much, and is shooting for rebounds going to cause more goals?

The answer is not simply yes or no as different scenarios call for different shots. Shooting for a rebound on a breakaway is dumb and should rarely be done, however shooting for a rebound on a 2-on-1, or when the attacking team gets set up in the offensive zone is smart. It causes chaos at the front of the net, where players are most likely able to score and it gives goaltenders another thing to think about.

Stopping picking corners!

This brings everything back to the night in Tampa where Artemi Panarin attempted to beat Andrei Vasilevskiy, a future hall of fame goaltender, on a shot three separate shots with no intent of creating a rebound. Three shots that ultimately missed the net high and wide and ended the Rangers golden chance to ice an important road victory. Thursday night was a game that the Rangers played well enough to win, never trailed during open play, got Vezina like play from their goalie, yet still lost. A trend that has happened all too often this season because they were “goalied” or “had bad puck luck”.

A look at this seasons numbers show that at even strength, three of the top five teams in the league with the most goals at even strength play, also are in the top five for rebound shots and rebound creation in the league.

How can the Rangers change this course and become a team that creates more rebounds? It starts with their defenseman creating shooting lanes and being dynamic skaters at the blueline, something the team has in abundance. From K’Andre Miller, Adam Fox, Braden Schneider and Jacob Trouba, the Blueshirts blueline is highly capable of creating these chances. The second piece of this solvable puzzle is the willingness to get to the front of the net, which is something they need to do a better job of. Other than Chris Kreider, who has lived in goalies grills for his entire professional career, and occasionally Kappo Kakko, the team lacks that edge to get to the dirty area. Guys like Jimmy Vesey, Jonny Brodzinski and Sammy Blais, who needs a goal more than anything, can provide that big annoying body in front to either screen the goalie, tip shots, or be there when pucks eventually come lose.

Love them or hate them, advanced stats tell stories that the human eye can see, but can’t quantify the way goals, assists and points do. While the Rangers have many problems as to why they have been wildly inconsistent, less than eight months after one of their most successful seasons in franchise history, one glaring problem is they need to be willing to swallow the pride of the fancy moves and get the puck to the net with traffic in front.

Hockey at its simplest form. 

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