While the New York Rangers might still be rebuilding, head coach David Quinn is already talking playoffs, as he should.
Throughout the Blueshirts’ West Coast Trip, Quinn let the NHL know the Rangers have playoff aspirations, telling reporters on Dec. 10:
“We’re 15-11-2 and we’re in a position to make the playoffs, as we stand here today. And that’s what we’re focused on.”
While some may think it is a bit too early in the Rangers process for this mindset, it’s actually the best thing for this young core moving forward.
Looking back at this rebuilding process the Rangers embarked on almost three seasons ago, the main goal at the time was acquiring assets to help them win in the future. Throughout that time, New York acquired 18 draft picks utilized to completely revamped their farm system, along with moving those picks for NHL caliber players. While the process of acquiring those picks was not easy after Jeff Gorton gutted the veteran core of this team, there was an end-game in mind, and we’ve finally reached it.
During the 2018-19 season, New York showed a compete level, which made watching the rebuild process a bit easier. The playoffs were never a question or a thought, and it would have been foolish for Quinn or Gorton to publically make comments about such an idea. But this year is a little different considering the makeup of this team.
While New York still has a small veteran core, a playoff push would help benefit this team to the max. It places them in meaningful hockey games, forcing every member of the club to think team-over-individual that much more. It also gives the team another thing to rally behind and work forward to as the season draws on.
The biggest benefit for this Ranger team aiming for the postseason, though, is them giving their younger players like Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko, Alexandar Georgiev, Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren their first chance at playing in meaningful games.
They are going to have to do it at some point in their careers for this rebuild to work, with New York hoping to reach their first championship since 1994, so why not now? A first-round exit for this young core will do so much more for them than having another draft pick in the top 10 of the draft.
Now make no mistake, this New York Rangers team is far from ready to make legitimate noise in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their defense is brutally inconsistent and their offense is produced by just two-star players, Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin. But as it stands now, New York is just three points away from the final wild-card spot and its been playing solid hockey over the last two months.
So what exactly can Quinn do to help his team reach those playoff aspirations? It starts with a few more adjustments on the blueline. More specifically, it begins at coming up with a scheme that eventually gets his team to quit falling into the trap of puck watching. Too many times this year, New York has caught itself doing just that and it creates high danger scoring chances for the opposition.
New York leads the league in high danger scoring chances with 452 chances against, according to Natural Stat Trick. The good news, however, is that both Henrik Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev are in the top 10 of the goaltenders in high-danger save percentages, which has bailed the Rangers out several times this season. Georgiev has a 1.38 goals-against average and Lundqvist showcases a 1.48 goals-against average in those situations.
Once Quinn can get the Rangers to cut down on their high-danger scoring chances, he can implement a much more aggressive defensive scheme that worked for 19:49 against the Los Angeles Kings until a goal in the final 11 seconds of the period set them back. It could also help them improve their penalty kill, which currently sits 25th in the league at 77.1 percent.
Aside from the defensive miscues, The Rangers’ greatest flaw is the lack of a shooting mentality. They are dead last in the league with a shot attempt percentage of 43.7, but also find themselves with the third-best shooting percentage at 11.1 percent. What the numbers are basically showing is New York prefers the pretty, perfect play over the simple one, a problem that has cost this team for years. The good news is this: it’s fixable.
Putting more pucks on net would drastically increase the team’s odds of a playoff berth this season.
There isn’t a team in the NHL who does everything perfectly for an entire season. Right now, the Rangers find themselves in a good position to help move this rebuild in a new direction, one that sees them start adding rather than subtracting players from their roster. While there is still room for them to grow, it is never a bad thing for a coach or a team to start thinking playoffs.
If they didn’t think that way, why bother playing the game or even watching it?