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Why the Rangers need to break the first unit’s power play habit

Why the Rangers need to break the first unit’s power play habit

It was Saturday night in San Josea scoreless game, when the Rangers went on the power play at 5:16 of the second period.

The Broadway Five took the ice, because of course they did. That would be Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, Vincent Trocheck and Adam Fox, the club’s top five offensive players.

There was Zibanejad’s timing, Kreider’s deflection that went wide, Fox’s shot off the post and Panarin’s shot that appeared to hit the crossbar as it went into the crowd to stop the game at 6:20, 1. :04 on the man advantage.

This was the perfect opportunity to bring in the second unit of Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Jacob Trouba and K’Andre Miller or, more recently, Sammy Blais for the draw in the right circle.

Apparently not. The first unit remained, with diminishing returns. The second drive finally got a defensive zone draw at 6:51. There were 25 seconds left on the power play and no chance for the second unit to create a chance.

Chris Kreider has been on the ice for 14 power-play goals for the Rangers this season.
NHLI via Getty Images

Fast forward to 15:42 of the period and the Blues’ next PP chance in a still scoreless game. This time, without stopping play with the first unit generally in possession, but able to generate only one shot on four attempts, the Broadway Five ate up about 1:30 of the man advantage, the second unit went continue with the in-flight changes that led to a brief setup in the area.

Lather, rinse, add conditioner and repeat. That was just a day in the life. That’s the essence of the Rangers’ power play, where a second-unit forward hasn’t scored a goal since Gerard Gallant took command behind the bench at the start of last season, even after this dramatic imbalance took hold during David Quinn’s final season. as head coach in 2020-21.

Rangers scored 50 goals in five against four last season. Kreider was the 47th; Zibanejad, 46; Fox, 43; Panarin, 41; and Ryan Strome, 40. The Blueshirts have scored 14 goals in five-on-four this season. Kreider, Zibanejad and Trocheck have been activated for all of them, and Panarin and Fox for 13.

That corresponds to ice time: Broadway’s five eat up 76 to 78 percent of the club’s power play time or roughly 1:32 per man advantage. This generally leaves the second unit, if they’re lucky, a tackle and a rushed setup attempt in the offensive zone.

That essentially translates to nothing for the team’s three most talented young forwards, the three first-rounders on whom much of the future appears to be invested. That would be Lafreniere, Kakko and Chytil, the paltry amount of touches on the man advantage minimizes their games and opportunities for growth.

Why the Rangers need to break the first unit’s power play habit
Gerard Gallant has accounted for most of the Rangers’ power-play minutes since his arrival in their first unit.
Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

The Rangers’ first unit is impressive. No question about it. But production is not worldwide. It’s not like the Blueshirts’ time allocation is putting up league-leading numbers. Is not. In fact, the team’s power play ranked ninth, at 23.5 percent, as of Monday morning.

The benefits of balance

Maybe, just maybe, the Rangers would be better with a slightly more balanced approach. Maybe, just maybe, the team would also be more productive at five-on-five if the Broadway five, all of whom but Panarin also get significant time on the penalty kill, didn’t get those cumulative minutes and the kids got more they.

Perhaps the added touches and increased confidence Lafreniere, who doesn’t have a power-play goal in his 154-game career, with significant power-play responsibility would bleed into his five-on-five game. Because it sure isn’t where anyone expected it to come from last season’s playoff run.

A check of the league’s best power plays shows that the most intense time is given to the best units. But no other team deviates as much as the Rangers and no other team deviates with such a dramatic five-man split.

Colorado, whose power play leads the NHL at a remarkable 36.5 percent, has four players claiming at least 76 percent of the time, but the fifth is around 61 percent. Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid get more than 80 percent of Edmonton’s power play minutes, but the fourth and fifth members of the PP1 get less than 67 percent. Toronto’s top drive is between 65 and 74 percent.

New York Rangers left wing Alexis Lafreniere skates with the puck as Arizona Coyotes right wing Dylan Guenther (11) chases during the first period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, Nov. 13, in 2022 in New York.
Alexis Lafreniere could find a way to shake off his early season struggles with some more scoring opportunities on the power play.
AP

Again, though, this Rangers time split influences the five-on-five. I don’t necessarily think the Blueshirts should change their program simply for the benefit of Lafreniere, Kakko and Chytil, but if their development isn’t Priority 1A, something is wrong.

Opportunity cost

Lafreniere, in year 3, it is nothing like a first general. Kakko, in Year 4, hardly looks like a second overall. There is a team concept and the ice has to be earned. This is understood. Ice time is not dictated by draft position. Sir, no, that is not how it can work in a successful operation.

But the Rangers must find a way to give Lafreniere and Kakko their best chance at success. The same applies to Chytil. Drafted 21st overall in 2017, he is on a contract year, and his ice time and opportunity have suffered with the increased minutes given to the centers ahead of him.

Filip Chytil #72 of the New York Rangers skates during the second period of the game against the Arizona Coyotes on November 13, 2022 at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York.
Filip Chytil’s lack of power play time may end up costing him when he negotiates a new contract after the season.
Getty Images

There may come a time when the right move is to move Panarin to Chytil’s left while Lafreniere goes up with Zibanejad and Kreider skates with Trocheck (who has formed zero connection through six weeks with Panarin). This would indicate a major disturbance.

An easier step, a first step, though, would be to give the second power play unit a legitimate shot. That could start Tuesday in Los Angeles.



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