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"Talking New York Rangers Hockey, since 2007"
New York, NY • United States • 23 Years Old • Male

The One Disgrace

Posted 2:14 PM ET | Comments 1
It is hard to complain, it really is.

After winning 10 of the last 12 games. After silencing critics who pointed to an easy schedule, by beating Washington, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh in consecutive games. After finally showing up for 60 minutes a night. After finally getting shots on net, and secondary scoring, and solid defense.

But there is still one problem that lurks below the surface, waiting to bite the Rangers where it counts.

The power play.

On paper it looks alright, at least recently. The team jumped from 29th in the NHL, after the loss to Florida, all the way to 21st, with four powerplay goals in the last three games. During this win streak they have been operating at 31% on the man advantage. But in truth, it is still extremely flawed.

This is most evident on the 5 on 3, where the Rangers have converted only one of nine opportunities this season. For some inexplicable reason, the players stop moving during these glorious chances, content to simply pass the puck around the perimeter and hope for an open shot. This, despite the fact that during even strength the club has figured out the best way to create offense is to skate harder than the opposition.

Even the 5 on 4 is struggling, for the most part. They have only generated 1.7 shots per powerplay over the last three games. There has not been sustained pressure leading to the four goals over that stretch; two goals came off well placed shots from the slot, while two came on the rush. So despite the success in numbers, the powerplay does not seem dominant. The Rangers are just hoping that they can come up with a quick strike goal over the course of two minutes.

A powerplay is not an advantage in and of itself. With nine, or eight players in the offensive zone, there is very little room or time to operate, let alone create scoring chances. The objective is to create mini advantages, where a 5 on 4 becomes a 2 on 1 down low, or a wide open defenseman in the slot. Puck movement serves as a way to get defenders out of position to create these matchups. If the opposing forwards are forced to the blue line, it creates a 3 on 2 down low. If they collapse to the net, it leaves the defenseman open for a shot from the point. Very effective puck movement may force the defense so far out of position that even better opportunities are created.

But this is only half of the task. And while the Rangers' passing has been acceptable, their player movement has been abysmal. You see, simple passing alone does not always befuddle the penalty killers. They have a system as well, and it allows them to take away the best passing and shooting lanes, while keeping the puck to the outside. If they know exactly where each of their five opponents is standing, their task becomes even easier.

To create chances, the Rangers need to get creative. Great players are at their best without the puck, and the level of talent on the powerplay units are not lacking. Players like Gaborik and Stepan need to find the holes in the defense, soft spots where they can receive a pass and create a mini advantage. Players like Richards and Del Zotto need to make runs from the point to the slot area, where they can take a high percentage shot on net.

These chances do not come automatically, they need to be created. The Rangers are the fifth best team in the NHL at even strength. There is no reason for them to be worse than that with an added advantage. In fact, if the Rangers played like it was even strength instead of hugging the boards for two minutes, the power play might actually come through more often.

That sounds a lot better than holding your breath for the last few minutes against Crosby and the Penguins.

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December 5, 2011 6:30 PM ET | Delete
Good analysis. It's amazing that the power play has been broken for so long. I don't know what the answer is, and it's evident the coaches don't either. I would love to see the power play in practice to actually get a feel for what they're doing. What's the answer though? Is it possible to hire some "specialist" who might have some ideas? Because you're right - at some point this season - maybe when it really counts - it's going to let them down. Again.
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