We need to talk about the New York Rangers.
The New York Rangers have been one of the NHL's more surprisingly successful teams this season, currently sitting 6th in NHL league standings with a 44-20-5 record and point percentage of 67.4% in 69 games played.
However, are they really a Cup Contender or are they just another Playoff Pretender?!
This article should provide you with an overview of the Rangers' early season success, use analytics to show how they've driven the results that they have and hopefully give you an idea of what to expect from them for the remainder of the season.
Rangers Analytics by Strength of Play (using Evolving Hockey's Model):
Despite their strong firepower up front including Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Alexis Lafreniere, the Rangers' even strength GF/60 and xGF/60 numbers have been abysmal. In fact, the only teams scoring less goals and generating less offensive chances than the Rangers at even strength this season are Buffalo, Montreal, Seattle, Chicago, San Jose and Arizona, all of whom sit well outside playoff positions. On the other side of the ice, the Rangers are 22nd (10th worst) in xGA/60 at even strength.
By these numbers, the Rangers are a fringe wild-card team at best. So how can they possibly be winning hockey games like they are?!
Igor Shesterkin: The Rightful Hart Leader
While New York's powerplay has been atop the league (converting at a league second-best 26.6%), the primary reason for the Rangers' unpredictable success is undoubtedly Igor Shesterkin's elite goaltending.
Shesterkin has bailed out the Rangers' poor offensive production and subpar defensive play all season long. Not only does Shesty have an incredible save percentage of .937 but he also has a ridiculous GSAx count of 34.12 over 41 games played.
To put these numbers into perspective, in the 2014-15 season, Carey Price won both the Hart and Vezina trophies with only 4.76 GSAx more than Shesty. Except Shesty has had 25 less games to accumulate his Goals Saved Above Expected.
I seriously cannot imagine where the Rangers would be without him.
So What's Next For These Rangers?!
According to the current odds on MoneyPuck, there is a 99.5% chance the New York Rangers will make the playoffs. We have established that the Rangers have found success to this point in the regular season because of a strong powerplay and elite goaltending. But what is going to happen when they inevitably reach the post-season?!
I really only see 3 potential outcomes:
They fall from grace and their poor even strength play catches up to them.
Igor Shesterkin continues to play at a generational level and carries them.
The Rangers fix their even strength offence and go on a crazy run.
My Personal Verdict: Playoff Pretenders
As far as I am concerned, the New York Rangers will likely be this NHL season's biggest playoff pretender.
Despite having their fair share of big-name offensive talent, this Rangers team plays far too much of a perimeter game and consequently struggles to create chances at even strength. While the acquisition of Justin Braun certainly helps the Rangers defensively, their D-Core (consisting of Braun, Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, Jacob Trouba, K'Andre Miller and Patrik Nemeth) is still nothing to write home about.
It is clear the New York Rangers will only go as far as Shesterkin can take them, and unfortunately, as awesome as Shesty is, he is bound to fall back down to earth at least a little bit (its already starting to happen).
Perhaps if the Rangers still had Pavel Buchnevich to help shoulder the load offensively it would be a different story, but I expect these Rangers to severely underwhelm come playoff time.
🏆🔥 What do you guys think of the New York Rangers?! Are they Cup Contenders or Playoff Pretenders?! Make sure to let me know your thoughts in the comment section below! 🔥🏆