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Rangers rolling up big offensive numbers

Four solid lines, smart defensive play leading to plenty of goals for New York

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- The six goals the New York Rangers scored against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday were celebrated inside the locker room, but they weren't fooled into thinking it would be like that all the time.

Maybe they should be.

The Rangers have scored 10 goals in their two games since defeating the Lightning 6-1. They defeated the St. Louis Blues 5-0 and the Edmonton Oilers 5-3 this week, giving them five or more goals in six of their 11 games this season and four or more in seven.

"What do the analytics say about it," defenseman Marc Staal said laughing after the win against Edmonton on Thursday.

Video: Rangers are Rolling on Offense

They're scoring 4.09 goals per game and are shooting 13.0 percent this season. No team has scored more than four goals per game in a full season since the Pittsburgh Penguins (4.41) in the 1995-96 season. Only one team (2009-10 Washington Capitals) has shot better than even 11.0 percent in the past eight full NHL seasons.

However, there are many facets of the Rangers game that could allow them to sustain as one of the best offensive teams this season and potentially the best the NHL has seen in a full season since the Capitals scored 3.82 goals per game in 2009-10.

Here are four reasons why the Rangers are scoring now and could continue to do so:

1. Skill on all four lines

The Rangers are using Pavel Buchnevich, Brandon Pirri and Jesper Fast on the fourth line. Buchnevich and Pirri are skilled enough to be used as scorers on the first or second line, but the Rangers have plenty of depth up there as well. Fast can be productive and supportive on any line.

It's a completely different look for the Rangers from the three previous seasons under coach Alain Vigneault, when they've generally used gritty, grinding forwards such as Dominic Moore, Tanner Glass and Viktor Stalberg on the fourth line.

"To have offensive talent on all four lines, where you know everyone can score and everyone can play defense, I think we can keep coming in waves at teams," forward Rick Nash said.

The four-line depth has led to balance. The Rangers have four players with five or more goals, including Nash, Michael Grabner and rookie Jimmy Vesey with six. They have seven players with four or more. Chris Kreider has three, but he missed four games. The Rangers are the only team with seven players who have four or more goals and seven players with nine or more points.

Seven of the top 50 scorers in the League are Rangers. The Chicago Blackhawks are the only team with as many as five in the top 50 and they've played one more game than New York.

Even better is that the Rangers are doing most of their damage at 5-on-5 because of their balance. They lead the League with 30 goals in 5-on-5 situations. Their power play is 13th at 21.9 percent.

Video: EDM@NYR: Nash slides in deflected puck for late lead

 

2. Defense-first approach

The Rangers are fifth in shots on goal per game at 31.5 and fourth in shots against at 26.6. A big reason for both of those stats is how well they are playing in their own end.

"The biggest thing about our game right now is we defend well in the sense that all our forwards are coming back real hard to the house and real quickly, permitting us to outnumber the opposition," Vigneault said. "Then when we get the puck it's just north-south real quick."

Vigneault and captain Ryan McDonagh said the support by the forwards down low in the defensive zone is a significant difference from last season, when the Rangers averaged 28.5 shots per game and 30.4 shots against.

"You see when we have a breakdown in the corner, if somebody beats us to the net, we have that good low support winger holding the front," McDonagh said. "That's something we were missing. So many times last year we felt like we were just giving up goals right in the middle and no one was there. Find where the most dangerous area is and help support everybody."

The support is there from the forwards when the other team is coming down on a rush too. An example was Kevin Hayes' goal off of a 3-on-1 rush with Vesey and Miller against the Blues on Tuesday.

All five Rangers skaters were at or below the hash marks when Blues forward Patrik Berglund took the puck low and made a pass through the crease to no one that went off the boards. Vesey, who backtracked from behind the Blues net, raced to get it and started the 3-on-1.

"We're not cheating to the offense," Miller said.

Video: STL@NYR: Hayes lights the lamp with one-timer on rush

 

3. Defensemen getting shots through

Rangers defensemen have three goals on 80 shots, meaning they've scored 3.75 percent of the team's goals on 23.1 percent of its shots on goal (346). However, they're contributing offensively by doing a good job of avoiding the first layer of the defense on their point shots.

Of the 176 shot attempts this season from New York's defensemen, 60 have been blocked (34.1 percent). McDonagh has had 13 of his 44 shot attempts get blocked. He leads the Rangers defensemen with 23 shots on goal and is tied for third in the NHL with nine assists.

The Rangers have gotten 24 assists from their defensemen, second in the League behind the Philadelphia Flyers (29).

"Our forwards make clean passes by guys, especially in the middle of the ice, and it gives us an opportunity to hit it," Staal said. "Just get it down to the net and we got guys that get to the blue paint. If we can get it down there for them they usually find an opportunity to score."

Even when a shot does get blocked, the Rangers are finding opportunities to score because they're avoiding the top layer of the defense. Case in point, Nash's game-winning goal against the Oilers came after Nick Holden's shot was blocked in front of the net by Milan Lucic. The puck dropped to Nash's feet and he was able to quickly score.

"Maybe teams are staying a little closer to home, toward the front of the net, because they're aware of our skill up front and that has given us an extra half-second to get our head up and make a move and create a shooting lane for ourselves," McDonagh said.

Video: STL@NYR: Girardi beats Allen to start the scoring

 

4. Support up the ice

The Rangers play a fast game, but also a patient game.

"We're making really good reads," McDonagh said. "You see some of the opportunities we get, the other team is kind of coming down with a four-man rush and they throw it blind through the crease, so we come back with an odd-man rush. For us, if there is no play to be made, we've been hanging onto it waiting for support and buying our time to make something happen instead of trying to force it. We don't have guys blowing the zone trying to create something out of nothing."

That comes back to the forward support, which is leading to a five-man game up the ice.

"I think it starts with us doing the right thing in our own end and how we break out the pucks," goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "We can come with speed and come together, support each other, and from there we create a lot of chances. But then you're going to have games where it's tougher to create chances and even when you have chances you're not going to score. So right now we've been cashing in and that's good for us."

They're not doing it by luck. The Rangers are playing a smart, aggressive, fast 200-foot game. No one in their dressing room is suggesting they'll keep scoring four or five goals every game, but everyone in there believes they can continue to score at a winning rate if they keep doing what they're doing.

Video: EDM@NYR: Grabner reaches to net bouncing puck

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