Saturday, December 11, 2010

Why Are Rangers So Good On Road But So Mediocre at Home? Can It Be Fixed?

As a follower of the New York Rangers there are things you have come to expect and maybe even begrudgingly accept in terms of inconsistent play and overpaid players and never reaching the team’s full potential.  One thing that is hard to comprehend though for the fans of this franchise who have stuck with this club in good times and bad is this new found ineptitude in their own building.  That is not to say that the Rangers were always good on home ice because they haven’t been especially during the consecutive years of missing the playoffs, but from the lockout until last season the club was 97-49-18 on home ice in those four years (11, 17, 6, 8 in home rankings in those seasons).  In those same four seasons the Rangers were a combined 74-64-26 on the road (18, 12, T-12, T-8 in road rankings) which is extremely respectable mark. 

Last season it took a late season charge just to get over .500 at 18-17-6 (T-27th w Tortonto) and this year they are a mere 6-8-1 at home (T-1st in home losses w Buffalo).  What makes the home struggles even more puzzling is the road excellence, especially in comparison to what the rest of the league does on the road.  Last season while they were struggling just to reach .500 on home ice they were 20-16-5 on the road which was the 13th best road record and this season they lead the league in road wins with 11 and an overall road mark of 11-4.  So the question becomes two-fold in how did the team go from so good at home to so mediocre and how are they so good on the road but unable to repeat that in their own building?

For the question of the disparity in the records at home versus prior years the teams are not as good, but at some point you have to look at the coaching as well considering those very good home records at least 3 ½ years of them were under the reign of Tom Renney.  On the question of why they have struggled so much the last two years at home there have been a lot of theories and many of them seem to put the fans squarely on the chopping block as a cause for the team struggles.  Personally I do not buy the whole the pressure of the fans causes the team to play worse excuses that some are trying to peddle.  I am not going to dismiss it completely as a “factor” as some players, especially those who have struggled in the past might grip the stick a little tighter, but it is not the reason.

Another theory is about slow starts to games and yes the Rangers do have a higher tendency to play a slow first period offensively at home, but the statistics do not show any defensive lag at home in the first.  In fact the first period is the only period in which the Rangers actually have outscored their opponents at home this year.  The Rangers have an 8-6 goal differential in the first at home while losing the second 20-18 and the third 14-13.  By contrast on the road the Rangers win both the first period 13-8 and third period 18-14 while only losing the second period 17-15.  Also the slow start theory does not really hold up when you look at games in which the team scored first which has happened at a 9:6 ratio at home and 10:5 on the road.

The power play struggling at home is certainly an issue so far this year but does not explain last year’s bad home record.  Last season the Rangers were an excellent 38/166 (22.9%) at home with the man advantage while they struggled to score on the road with a pitiful 17/135 (12.6%) mark.  This season the team is 8/60 (13.3%) at home while performing better at 10/50 (20%) on the road.

For me the Rangers just play a much tighter game on the road than they do at home in terms of keeping players to the outside, giving up less scoring chances, working the forecheck and cycle much better offensively and playing with a higher sense of urgency.  This to me is shown in both the increased early scoring on the road and the better finishes out of home ice as well.  The most telling statistic for me is the Rangers record when scoring first and the differential they have in holding leads at home as opposed to on the road.  Everyone has been impressed with the Rangers record when they have the lead after two periods which is an outstanding 13-0-0.  I went through the numbers earlier in discussing the slow start theory but when I did not do is break down how those games turned out. 

The team is a very good 14-4-1 when they score the first goal of the game, but at home it is only 5-3-1 as opposed to a 9-1 mark on the road.  When they fail to score first they are a pitiful 1-5 at home and better 2-3 on the road.  To me this speaks to the urgency and style differences the team plays with away from their own rink throughout the course of the game.  There is no reason that a team that is undefeated when leading after two periods should have failed to win 4 of the 9 games they scored first at home while successfully defending an opening goal lead 9 of 10 times on the road.   This is the kind of stat that for me takes away the excuse of the crowd making them tight because the reality is they actually play a "looser" game with the lead at home as opposed to on the road unless someone would like to argue that the crowd makes them tight and causes the screw-ups.  At some point as a professional you have to look in the mirror and take the responsibility especially in New York because as bad as the fans hate screw-ups they respect those who cop to it instead of out on it.  Besides if you succeed here there is no better fan base to have behind you.

For me it really does boil down to a mentality differential for the team in how they play at home versus on the road in which they go into the opponent’s building with the idea of doing whatever it takes to get two points and at home they sit back and wait for the other team to hand them the game.

Give me your theories.