On Kids’ Day, Alain Vigneault was experiencing anything but childlike glee.
Rather, he was engaged in a bit of existential angst.
Yes, the Rangers had topped the Carolina Hurricanes, 4-2, in the Saturday afternoon matinee. Yes, the Rangers ended the day tied with Chicago for a NHL-best 35 points.
But the manner in which his team played, that irked Vigneault.
“I would say the first couple of shifts of the game I liked. Obviously, in the third the game is on the line, I liked — there was a minute stretch in the second that I liked, and everything in between, because there’s some kids in the room here, I’m not going to tell you exactly what I think of those moments there,” Vigneault told reporters during his postgame media availability.
He later added: “We started off well. We scored a goal, and then after that our execution was nonexistent, nonexistent, but these game are 60 minutes long, three periods. It was a 1-1 game, and we played our best period at the end.”
As has been noted in this space, the Rangers’ plus-30 goal differential is the NHL’s best, as is their 95 goals scored and their 3.65 goals per game average. Undoubtedly those are positives.
But are they sustainable?
An examination of hockey-reference.com’s advanced statistical database reveals the Rangers rank 27th in the league with a 47.2 percent Corsi For percentage. As concerning would be their 49.3 Fenwick For percentage and 104.5 PDO. PDO, for the uninitiated, is a team’s five on five shooting percentage added to its even strength save percentage. Traditionally, teams with PDOs over 100 are viewed as being exceptionally fortunate.
Moreover, the Rangers’ 47.4 offensive zone start ranks 26th in the NHL, while their 52.6 percent defensive zone start is fifth highest in the NHL.
What does this all mean?
Simply, the Rangers are being out-puck possessed while spending more time in the defensive zone than attacking opponents.
With 56 games remaining, there is time for the Rangers to right their ship. The question is how that will be done. Opponents are taking away the middle of the ice from the Rangers, which has limited their up-tempo attack. And the Rangers do not possess a proven puck-moving defenseman after the negotiating rights to then-UFA to be Keith Yandle were traded to Florida prior to the draft.
Since the off-season speculation has persisted that the Rangers and Blues would work out a deal that would see St. Louis trade UFA defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to Broadway for Rick Nash.
According to industry site CapFriendly.com, Nash is under contract through next season, where he will finish up the final year of an eight year, $62.4 million contract. Nash has a modified no-trade clause in his contract, which kicked in last season, and will expire at the end of the 2017-18 season.
The question is whether GM Jeff Gorton would move a 32-year-old winger who has 11 goals and 17 points in 26 games, or does the executive hold onto Nash and try to find another way to acquire a puck-moving, power play stalwart defenseman?
Those are questions that will be answered by the trade deadline. In the interim, this is an experienced group that recognized they got away with playing one period against the Hurricanes.
“At times today we got a hold of the puck and then stopped moving our feet. You have to move once you get the puck,” Ryan McDonagh said. “That’s when you find things and the flow of the game comes to you a little bit better. Certainly we weren’t moving our feet, thinking fast, anticipating our next play in the first 40 [minutes]. I liked that we stayed with it, didn’t get frustrated, and certainly Henrik [Lundqivst] kept us in there, gave us a chance to come out and score some goals in the third.”
By any measure, the 2016-17 season has not played out the way the New York Islanders envisioned when they first congregated at Northwell Health Ice Center in September.
Even with a three-game winning streak, the Islanders are 28th in the 30-team league. They trail Columbus by 10 points for third place in the Metropolitan, and are seven points behind Washington and Tampa Bay for the first and second Eastern Conference Wild Card slots.
But according to a report in Newsday, there may be reason for the franchise’s long-suffering fans to have optimism. Citing a source, the newspaper reported Friday that co-owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin are gauging interest in what would essentially be the franchise’s head of hockey operations role. According to the report, the newly installed ownership group has spoken to franchise legend Pat LaFontaine and ex-Ranger Brad Richards. Other names mentioned were agent Pat Brisson and Canadiens’ COO Kevin Gilmore, while speculating that Florida team president Dale Tallon could be hired away from the Panthers.
“They’re looking for a big name,” the source told Newsday. “They’ve talked to a lot of people already.”
You can follow Metro New York NHL writer Denis P. Gorman on Twitter at @DenisGorman.