Despite a loss, the Rangers had a strong third period and were able to gain the point they needed to clinch their playoff return.
For a team like the Maple Leafs, that is the goal. For a contender like the Rangers, this is just the entry point towards their aspirations of winning the Stanley Cup. Is the Stanley Cup a reasonable aspiration from the Wild Card spot? While the odds would seem longer, matching up with the Atlantic Division through to the Eastern Conference Final likely offers a better opportunity than slugging it out with the Capitals and Penguins for 14 games.
Do the Rangers have the roster to not just compete, but win the Stanley Cup? How do they compare with the two previous champions when we look at their shot metrics in-depth?
The Rangers have taken a positive step forward this year in their ability to drive the play. While not a great possession team, their expected goal totals have been fairly reflective of their consistently great results that belie the expected norms of a team who consistently fails the shot metric test.
The Rangers possess a Stanley Cup-worthy offense. This is evident when we look at their league-wide position in the ‘goals for’ column, but becomes even more apparent when we break down the way they produce their opportunities.
Comparing the Rangers 2016-17 regular-season production versus the last two Stanley Cup champions playoff success, we see a team that shouldn’t struggle to produce opportunities. The Penguins were pretty dominant during last season’s playoffs by using pre-shot movement. The Penguins were above average in producing opportunities from the most dangerous areas on the ice, as well as producing an elite 7% shots from slot-line feeds. This lead to an expected shooting percentage of almost 9.5%.
The Blackhawks, on the other hand, struggled to produce these types of consistent opportunities but were extremely opportunistic relying on streak shooting for their offense. Their expected shooting percentage was only 8.1%, far below their actual shooting percentage of 9%.
The Rangers’ offense has been more dynamic this season than both of these offenses and their speed is the lynchpin to all of their success this season. While a poor shooting streak can undermine a team or help define a champion in Chicago’s case, this shouldn’t be a Rangers’ concern entering the playoffs.
Where the Rangers may not measure up is on the defensive side of the puck. Both the Blackhawks and the Penguins only needed league average goaltending to win their respective Stanley Cups. Both teams provided an environment where their goaltenders gained clear sight and didn’t have to deal with difficult scenarios. While the Rangers maintain a positive chance differential, their up-tempo style provides the opportunity for a wide variance. A ton of chances at both ends of the ice can lead to erratic short-term results and colossal upsets.
While the defensive shortcomings may seemingly push the Rangers away from the Cup conversation, we need to look at the Blackhawks’ Cup run and their reliance on streak shooting to achieve their 2014-15 championship. The Rangers’ numbers are based on the assumption of average goaltending on a team that has received a surprisingly average performance from Henrik Lundqvist, a player who had a legit MVP caliber season in 2015-16.
If you pair the Rangers’ offense with a .909 SV%, you may be able to go on a fun playoff ride, but ultimately it will fall short of the desired goal. If you can add in Lundqvist’s pre-2017 ability to manipulate his environment by +.009, we have an elite offense with a .918 goaltending and that places the Rangers back among the legit contenders.
At this stage of his career, does Lundqvist have one more save percentage bending run in him? It’s a huge question because this team is built around maxing out his prime and it will define whether this Rangers team has any chance to end their 22-year drought.