Coming off a season in which they won the Presidents’ trophy, the New York Rangers are off to a great start in 2015-16. As of the beginning of play on Sunday, the Blueshirts lead the Metropolitan Division with 22 points, second to only the Montreal Canadians in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers plus-17 goal differential ranks second in the NHL.
The standings make it seem as if all is well in the Big Apple and the team could again contend as one of the league’s best teams this season. But underneath the team’s 10-2-2 record, there’s plenty of reason to doubt that the Rangers are among the NHL’s elite this year.
Last season, the Rangers finished 17th in the league in score-adjusted shot attempts, but were on the right side of 50 percent at 50.6 percent. So far in 2015-16, the Rangers rank 22nd in puck possession, with a 48.4 percent score-adjusted shot attempt percentage. Nowhere near a possession powerhouse last season, the Rangers 2.2 percent drop in puck possession could spell trouble in the road ahead. It’s not as if the Rangers have had a particularly tough schedule so far, as only five of their 14 games have been against teams with a shot attempt percentage of 50 percent or better.
Despite owning 48.4 percent of the shot attempts at 5v5, the Rangers have scored 71.7 percent of the goals. They’ve been able to do this thanks to excellent goaltending and hot shooting, neither of which are sustainable at their current levels.
Henrik Lundqvist is one of the best goalies in the league and he’s certain to see the majority of the starts for the Rangers this season. But the level of goaltending that he and Antti Raanta have provided thus far is simply unsustainable. To date, Rangers’ goalies have stopped 96.1 percent of 5v5 shots in 2015-16. To show how unsustainable this is, here’s the top 10 team 5v5 save percentages for a single season since 2007-08, courtesy of War on Ice.
Since 2007-08, no team has ever posted a single season 5v5 save percentage above 94.1 percent. If you remove the three dominant seasons the Bruins put together, that mark falls to 93.9 percent. Lundqvist or not, Rangers’ goalies simply will not continue to stop 96.1 percent of the shots they face at 5v5.
Lundqvist has had some dominant stretches of play like this before (although his 10 game rolling save percentage was never this high last season), but it’s plain to see that not even he can sustain this level of play, as he’s always come back down to earth when posting a run like his current one.
The Rangers shooters have also been performing at a rate that isn’t going to be sustained over an 82-game season. The team is currently shooting a league-leading 10.1 percent at 5v5. You’ll see below that this isn’t in another stratosphere like the team’s save percentage, but that it would still be one of the best shooting seasons since 2007-08.
Only two teams have topped this in a single season since 2007-08: the Maple Leafs in the lockout shortened season and the Caps in 2009-10. Four of the 10 teams are from the lockout shortened season, and it’s fair to suggest that those percentages would have dropped over an 82 game sample. In terms of the 2009-10 Caps, it’s only reasonable to be skeptical that these Rangers are the offensive dynamo that that team was.
Rookie Oscar Lindberg currently leads the team with seven 5v5 goals. He’s off to a great start and did show some scoring touch in the AHL over the past two seasons. But he’s currently shooting 28 percent at 5v5. This won’t continue. Nor will Mats Zuccarello’s solid start. A career 10.83 shooter, Zuccarello has found the net on 23.81 percent of his 5v5 goals this season. The Rangers have 10 skaters currently shooting ten percent or above. While Rich Nash’s zero percent shooting percentage at 5v5 won’t continue, he’s going to be unable to counter balance all of his teammates’ plummeting shooting percentages when he does catch fire.
The Rangers are a competitive hockey team who should make the playoffs in 2015-16. They have an elite goaltender and a well-rounded group of skaters. But their current level of success isn’t sustainable, and there’s cause for concern that when their shooting and save percentages come back down to earth, that they will struggle unless they are able to improve their puck possession numbers.