Rangers playing well statistically on paper and on the ice heading into the playoffs

Ryan McDonagh accepts the President's Trophy (NHL)

Ryan McDonagh accepts the President’s Trophy (NHL)

It’s how you finish that’s most important to having a long playoff run. Today we are going to look at how a strong finish to a team’s season can help to propel a team to greatness and a long stay in the post season.

Some teams had a good start to the season only to fall off the face of the Earth down the stretch. Just ask the Penguins, Islanders and Red Wings how important it is to finish strong. You also can’t play terrible in October and November and expect to make a late run. For that you can look at Columbus, Carolina, Colorado, and Dallas. All of whom have been playing very good hockey now but will be clearing out their lockers on Saturday.

The Rangers finish can be quantified through possession statistics.

In recent years the whole possession theory has come to the forefront of debate by the believers and nay-sayers alike. Puck possession stats are constantly scrutinized by mainstream media types as well as local fan blogs. Statistics that track possession, for the most part need large sample sizes for creating a theory on a team or its players. I enjoy trying to find patterns with possession so today we will attempt to do just that. We will look at how the Rangers stack up against recent Stanley Cup Champs.

The teams below all have one thing in common, they all had a strong finish to their season.
TEAM SEASON Record Over Last 25 Games FenwickFor% NHL RANK
Kings 2013-14 16-7-2 57.50% 1
Blackhawks 2012-13 16-8-1 56.3 3
Kings 2011-12 13-8-4 60 1
Bruins 2010-11 15-6-4 50 14
Blackhawks 2009-10 15-7-3 60.3 1
Penguins 2008-09 18-3-4 56.9 3
Red Wings 2007-08 13-10-2 58.1 2
Ducks 2006-07 15-4-6 52.6 8
 *All statistics are score adjusted unblocked shots to remove score effects and     systems bias for teams that block a lot of shots.
In theory 25 games is not enough data to determine how a team finished their season.
Rangers celebrate President's Trophy win in NJ (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Rangers celebrate President’s Trophy win in NJ (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Twenty-five games is usually not enough events to accurately create an opinion on any particular player or team. However, for argument’s sake we can track how important it is for a team to be playing their best hockey as they go into the playoffs. Aside from the 10’/11′ Bruins, who were 10th in the NHL in possession during the season and 14th in their last 25 games. Every team in the last 8 seasons was playing their best hockey down the stretch.

Related: Things to keep an eye on the NYR final two games.

Before the loss to Ottawa (we will omit due to the resting of players)the Rangers have played well in the last 25 games. Their 17-4-4 record is solid proof of that. On the list above only the Pittsburgh Penguins of 08’/09′ have more wins in that time. In the last 25 games the Rangers are 5th in the NHL with a 54.6% score adjusted Fenwick for percentage of. They are right in line with every other team on our list above. No other team in playoff position aside from the Penguins have played better than the Rangers since February 17.

Every Team that won the Stanley Cup the last 8 seasons controlled possession during their last 25 games.

The Rangers finish to this season is ranked second of the teams headed for the playoffs with only Pittsburgh driving possession at a better clip. The Penguins though are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade with a spot not yet guaranteed. Unlike the Rangers the Penguins have been in playoff position since the start of the season which only proves the point of how important a strong finish is. They could still miss the playoffs between now and the finale on Saturday.

The Rangers offense is often able to score with long stretch passes where one shot attempt was all they needed.
Martin St. Louis and JT Miller celebrate (Getty)

Martin St. Louis and JT Miller celebrate (Getty)

On the entire 81 games the Rangers have played in 14/15, they’re 10th in the NHL in score adjusted possession with a Fenwick for of 52.3% and 52% Corsi percentage. Modest possession statistics but they get many of their shots on the rush. The Rangers offense is predicated on quick breakouts and speed through the neutral zone. So while teams are trying to manufacture offense, the Rangers are often able to strike quick and score. This may be why the Rangers possession percentages aren’t higher than they are.

The idea that not all shots are created equal is true in theory. In a recent post, that argument was made by Anthony. He speaks to the importance of shots in what he referred to as the “Kill zone” which you can read here. 

Yandle celebrates his goal vs NJ (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Yandle celebrates his goal vs NJ (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

In theory shots that come from immediately in front of the net are going to have a higher scoring rate than a shot that comes from the point or along the boards. This is true the same as a shot off the rush has a higher success rate than all other shots (2.5% Higher).

This is what makes the Rangers as good as they are. They are a good possession team when they have to be as we can see by their possession ranking. The Rangers are able to score quickly with odd-man rushes from takeaways, giveaways, and lightning quick breakouts. Teams that try to attack the Rangers by sending defenseman on the rush are often left with the puck in back of their net. The Rangers leave opposing defenseman wondering what just happened. This starts be being a good possession team which includes limiting shot attempts against and getting shots for.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29Ht14kaL7Q]

This is how possession shows us the way a team was playing down the stretch. This is also how we can predict how a team will play come playoff time. That is part of the allure of tracking puck possession stats like Corsi and Fenwick.

Some fans prefer to base their opinions on what they see on the ice from a team or player. The problem with that (and I’ve said this before) is you have no factual evidence to base your opinion on with the “eye test”. With advanced stats you have some statistical evidence with which to base your opinion on.

Make no mistake about this Rangers team, they are in playoff mode now. No matter what Alain Vigneault says, he is resting players the final 2 games of the season. If the Rangers hadn’t had accomplished as much as they have, Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, and Marc Staal would all be in the lineup.

For now, the Rangers have shown both on the ice and statistically that the are primed for the post season.

 

I began watching the Rangers in 1990 when I was 9 years old. Soon after a lifelong friend of... More about Bob-O

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