Rangers’ early-season struggles no fluke
The New York Rangers made a ton of headlines this past summer. They signed marquee free agent Artemi Panarin, acquired Jacob Trouba via trade from Winnipeg, fetched top college prospect Adam Fox from Carolina, and drafted Kaapo Kakko with the No. 2 selection.
They were expected to contend this season as a result. Not for a Stanley Cup, but rather a playoff spot in a somewhat mediocre Metro Division.
It’s still early, of course, but the first few weeks of the season suggest even sniffing a Wild Card spot might be a stretch.
New York has limped out of the gate to a 2-4-0 start – perhaps generous considering their poor play.
At 5v5, where most of every game is spent, they’ve routinely been caved in. They’ve controlled just 43.25% of the shot attempts, 41.96% of the scoring chances, and 39.42% of the expected goals. Each total slots them 31st – in some cases by fairly significant margins.
While the offense has not been good, per se, the defense is the root of the problem. They are bleeding chances. So much so that they’re expected to allow 3.13 goals per 60 minutes at 5v5. For a perspective of just how dreadful that is, Ottawa ranks 30th in said category giving up 2.47 xGA per 60. Quite the gap.
Making matters worse is an inability to stay out of the box. As you’d expect from a team always on its heels and forced to defend, the Rangers are taking a lot of penalties. Only the Golden Knights have spent more time shorthanded on a per game basis and the difference – two seconds – is negligible.
A team consistently coming out on the wrong end of things at 5v5 needs to consistently win the special teams battle to have any chance of success. That’s awfully difficult when you can’t stay out of the box.
Given their putrid 5v5 play, and lack of discipline, it seems more likely the Rangers contend for top pick than a playoff spot.
The Kings’ offense has life
The Los Angeles Kings were a blackhole offensively in 2018-19. They ranked 31st in shots on goal/60, 30th in scoring chances/60, and 29th in expected goals/60 at 5v5.
The team had an awfully difficult time generating opportunities and converting on the ones they did get was even more of an issue.
What did the Kings do to upgrade the offense in the off-season? Nothing, really. A casual NHL observer might have to comb over the roster for 5-10 minutes to notice any personnel changes.
The Kings – by choice or otherwise – doubled down on the players in place. If the offense was going to noticeably improve, they needed people to step up and be better under new head coach Todd McLellan. So far they have been.
Los Angeles, though sitting 3-5, has not remotely resembled the team we saw a season ago. They shockingly sit 1st in shots on goal/60, scoring chances/60, and expected goals/60. And it’s been the big guns leading the charge.
Anze Kopitar has nine points in eight games and his chance generation has jumped from 2.14 to 3.25 per game.
Ilya Kovalchuk, perhaps reinvigorated from not playing net-front on the power play, has seven points in eight games. He is just two PP markers shy of his total from a season ago.
Tyler Toffoli, fresh off a 5-goal campaign at 5v5, has already potted three goals in that game state. He currently sits tied for 6th in scoring chances. The five players ahead of him – Alex Ovechkin, Auston Matthews, Sean Monahan, Brendan Gallagher, and Kyle Connor – have all logged at least 25 more minutes of ice time.
It seems unlikely the Kings will continue to lead the league in all these major offensive categories, but the fact they’re improved attack is relying on improved shot and chance rates from top players – rather than unsustainably high shooting percentages – bodes well for their chances of having a quality offense going forward.
I still don’t expect the Kings to enjoy much success but, at the very least, their offense has life and they’re no longer painful to watch.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com