Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Rangers Power Play Is Actually Becoming A Weapon

For much of the season the New York Rangers power play was something so painful to watch that the running commentary the NHL should devise a system where you could actually decline opposition penalties.  Don’t look now, but that is no longer the case.  In March the Rangers have converted 7 of 25 power plays (28%).  That number alone would be impressive from where it has been over the course of the season, but over the past four games the power play unit has clicked for 6 goals in just 14 opportunities (43%).  The recent surge has raised the team’s season percentage to 17.7%, which pulls them to a respectable 15th in the league after being significantly lower for much of the year.

What if anything can account for such a drastic change in these results? 


The trade for Bryan McCabe has certainly had an impact on the power play as he has brought a true quarterbacking presence to the unit.  McCabe unlike many of the other players the Rangers have tried on the point this season understands the nuances of running a power play.  There have been a number of noticeable differences with him in the fold.  His ability to hold the blue line and keep possession in the offensive zone has been huge in maintaining pressure on their opponents and eventually wearing them down for goals later in the man advantage.  The understanding of to walk the line create lanes not only for his own shot, but also for others to get open.  Potentially the biggest is the fear of his shot, which the Rangers have not possessed all season to make the defense honor the point and have to play higher in certain instances which creates room and holes elsewhere.


For much of the season I have pleaded with the Rangers to attack the net more and get more traffic in front on the power play, but even beyond that play with a more aggressive mentality.  You had a team that played aggressive hockey at even strength and shorthanded, but was passive when they were on the power play.  They were content to pass the puck around for much of the time in the offensive zone and then shoot it into the bodies of the defense.  This has not been the same recently.  The Rangers have been more aggressive both in general shooting but also attacking the net down low.  They have had power play goals scored in front from tap-ins, shots in the slot and rebounds. 

This is partially because of the attention that McCabe demands, but also a more aggressive mindset, most notably from players like Erik Christensen.  The Rangers would suffer through far too many power players with no shots and now they are firing when they have the chance.  Over those last four games the team has had 30 shots on goal in those 14 power play opportunities.  It seems they have finally figured out that you cannot score if you do not shoot.  All the best power plays dictate to their opponent’s and the Rangers are finally starting to do that.

This recent hot-streak on the power play could be a fluke, but if it is a sign of things to come down the stretch and in the playoffs it adds another dimension to the Rangers as a hockey team.  If they can find a way to combine their defense and goaltending with an offense that can chip in on the power play they would become a very dangerous opponent as special teams is at a premium in the playoffs.  For now at least Rangers’ fans no longer have to groan each time they go on the power play, joke about how they should decline the penalty or wonder if it will kill the team’s momentum and instead can look forward to hearing Sam Rosen say, “It’s a power play goal.”