Do the Rangers play worse offensively in front of Lundqvist than his backups?

For at least the last two years, the idea has been floated around  that the New York Rangers play two different games: one when Lundqvist is in the net and one when he isn’t. That idea goes on to posit that the New York Rangers who show up when Lundqvist is off the ice is a much better team. Those Rangers create more offense knowing that they can’t just grind out low scoring, one goal games, and they play a tighter defensive game knowing that the King can’t just bail them out when they misstep. Overall, they play a better game of hockey without their safety net.

In this article I intend to begin looking into the notion that a team plays differently depending on who the goalie in net is. I will do so by examining something less directly tied to the goalie position. I will be looking at the GF60 and CF60 rates of three separate teams split based on whether their franchise goalie is in the net or not.

The Narrative Behind it All

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Lundqvist being attended to by the Rangers’ medical trainer after being struck in the throat by a shot.

This idea isn’t without some cursory evidence. The Rangers were without Lundqvist for a sizable stretch in the 2014-15 season. A puck to the neck caused Hank to miss all of the Rangers’ games between Feb. 4th and March 26th, which was a 26-game stretch. Cam Talbot went on to shoulder much of the weight as the interim starter and ultimately he put up a great 0.926 performance. However, an early story line was the unexpected goal support from the Rangers for Talbot. From Feb. 10th to Feb. 22nd, the Rangers logged 33 goals in 7 games. And while they came back to earth shortly thereafter, the goal support still seemed to be there more for their goaltenders who aren’t named Hank. Talbot and MacKenzie stood in net for 38 games where the Rangers put up 3.04 GF60. Lundqvist received the slightly lower goal support of 2.89 GF60 over the course of 46 appearances. That came out to an extra 5.2% goals for Talbot and MacKenzie, which is an extra goal every 7 or so games.

Less Narrative, More Data and Graphs

I began by pulling 5v5 TOI, GF, and CF data for the New York Rangers’ goalies’ individual seasons from 2010-16, excluding 2012-13 (because the sample size is small for the lockout year). The data for guys besides Lundqvist were merged into a composite for each year.

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The differences between the totals over these five seasons ended up being much larger than I expected. The Rangers scored an extra 0.23 GF60 in 5v5 play and generated 2.4 CF60 extra in 5v5 play when Lundqvist was on the bench or otherwise not playing. And in fact, the GF60 and CF60 data on a year-by-year basis was higher for the backups in 4 of the 5 seasons. The 5-year TOI totals were 16,202 min with Lundqvist and 5,758 min without. On a year-to-year basis, the TOI ranged from 2,225 to 3,088 min with Lundqvist and 743 to 1,785 min without. So the samples are decent in size.

Now, I do think this is compelling evidence that for some reason the Rangers are generally performing slightly better without Lundqvist in net. However, it is not possible to discern a reason from this data. Perhaps the players actually are more motivated to generate offense because they do not have their safety net. Perhaps the team’s coaches have made measurable changes to their personnel choices, such as decisions that are meant to try and keep the puck in the attacking zone. Perhaps the goalies themselves have significant contributions to the production, such as through stick handling.

To try and learn more about this apparent phenomenon, I investigated whether this situation has arisen on other teams. I chose to look at Nashville with Pekka Rinne and Chicago with Corey Crawford. Nashville, I thought, would provide a close parallel to the Rangers as both teams has generally been centered on an elite workhouse goaltender with a below average offensive team to support him. Chicago was to provide a stark contrast where I felt that Crawford was only depended upon to consistently deliver acceptable results and was infrequently leaned on to steal games. The Blackhawks tend to depend more on their offensive capabilities than the Rangers or Predators do, meaning that goaltending need not be as prized in Chicago.

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The results were quite contrary to my expectations. The Predators, who seemingly would need to emphasize offense more without their star goaltender in net instead have mostly faltered in Rinne’s absence. Chicago, on the other hand, ramped up their production when they didn’t have their starter in net. It seems that the Blackhawks seek to capitalize more on their scoring opportunities to help support their backups.

Below is another look at the data. These graphs give direct year-by-year comparisons of the data for all three franchises with and without their starting goalie:

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The GF60 data seems really noteworthy. For all three teams, 4 of the 5 dots fall on one side of the line. In the case of the Rangers and Blackhawks, they fall above the line, where offense is up when the starter is out. The Predators see a dip in production on all but one year when Rinne is off the ice.

The CF60 data mirrors the trend for the Rangers and Predators. However, the Blackhawks see their CF60 drop in 3 of the 5 years without Crawford in the net. This is starkly different than what was seen in the GF60 data.

Closing Statements

I intend to investigate this idea further with other teams that have had a consistent starter across the past six-year period (e.g., Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Dallas, etc). I will avoid teams that have significantly switched their starters in that period to try and avoid adding yet another set of variables into this analysis. Even someone like Lehtonen will be pushing it as he has effectively gone from being the #1 goalie in Dallas to a 1A/1B goalie this past year.

I know the Rangers better than I do any other team in the league so they would be the best team for me to dig deeper on this matter. I have a suspicion that personnel choices by the coaches may be a significant driver of what was observed for the Rangers. However, failing that I can also look into “puck luck” in those games. It is possible that what we’re seeing is just an aberration by pure chance.

Ultimately I think something like this could be an important part of understanding how a major roster change could affect a team in indirect ways. There could be an argument made that moving Lundqvist for a slightly above goalie could be a better change than would be expected than just by the GA60 and salary cap impacts. There is evidence that that a slight GF60 bump could occur, which would in part mask a rise in GA60.

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Quick Look: Do Diving and Embellishment Calls Correlate with Rates of Penalties Taken and Drawn?

Thanks to the 2015-16 Diving/Embellishment List on Scouting the Refs and the easily accessible data on Corsica, I made a quick graph of how 5v5 player penalty rates break down depending on whether the player had either 0, 1, 2, or 3 diving/embellishment calls in 2015-16 or had been fined by the league for the same offenses.

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po8arov Continue reading “Quick Look: Do Diving and Embellishment Calls Correlate with Rates of Penalties Taken and Drawn?”

The Shared History of the Rangers and Penguins

While the history of the Penguins and Rangers is not enough for them to consider each other rivals, they certainly have shared some heated events and interesting connections in the past. In this article, I will cover some of the noteworthy events and players these two teams have shared over the last 49 years in anticipation of their third playoff series in three years.

Past Incidents

David Shaw slashes Mario Lemieux in the throat.

The first major incident between the two teams happened on October 30, 1988. David Shaw of the Rangers made a two-handed slash across Mario Lemieux’s neck. Lemieux immediately went down and remained down for a few minutes. Pat Quinn of the Penguins went right after Shaw, brandishing his stick as a weapon. Quinn speared Shaw before the two ended up grappling and quickly went down to the ice.The entire Penguins bench got as close to Shaw as they could without jumping the boards as Shaw was escorted by them to the locker room.

The third period of that game would tally 282 PIMs and 9 game misconducts between the two teams as two separate brawls erupted in the last 5 minutes of play. Shaw would later received a 12-game suspension for his slash, which was the 3rd-longest suspension in league history at the time.

 

Adam Graves breaks Mario Lemieux’s hand with a slash.

In Game 2 of the 1992 Patrick Division Final, Adam Graves delivered a heel-first two-handed slash onto Lemieux’s left hand. Graves was only given a minor in game, but was hit with a 4-game suspension afterwards by the league. Those four games would be all it took for the Penguins to win the series 4-2. Lemieux was out of the line up for two weeks before returning in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Boston Bruins. Lemieux would score 8 points in the last three games of that series sweep. Lemieux would tally an additional 7 points in the Pens’ sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks for their second consecutive Stanley Cup.

Lemieux, when asked about the play some days later, commented that he thought the Rangers coach, Roger Neilson, had sent someone after him to hurt him intentionally. Lemieux said there was no question in his mind about that.

 

Lundqvist vs Crosby

The most notable aspect of the Rangers-Penguins match-up as of late has been the ongoing feud between Henrik Lundqvist and Sidney Crosby. While the two superstars seem to have a lot of respect for what the other has accomplished, they have a seething dislike for each other, which has culminated in a few unusual outbursts through the years. Most notably, there is the March 4, 2010, incident where Lundqvist called Crosby out for a suspected dive and a May 11, 2014, incident in which Lundqvist doused Crosby with water during a scrum.

 

Tortorella fined for comments about the Penguins

During a playoff game on April 5, 2012, Derek Stepan received a knee-to-knee hit by Brooks Orpik. In the post-game interview, Tortorella ripped hard into the Penguins organization and earned himself a $20,000 fine from the league. Crosby’s response was rather cool-headed with a touch of frustration.

 

Regular Season Match-Ups History

The Penguins entered the league in the 1967 Expansion and first faced the Rangers on October 22, 1967. They lost 6-4, which was a respectable loss for them against an Original 6 team that year. They would manage to tie the Rangers 2-2 in their third match-up on February 10, 1968. It wouldn’t be until their 8th meeting on February 5, 1969, that the Penguins would first overcome the Rangers.

The Penguins struggled against the Rangers for years after entering the league. By the end of 1974, the historic match-up between these two teams favored the Rangers with 29 wins, 5 losses, and 7 ties. But the tide would change from then on. The Penguins regrouped to find three victories and only one loss to the Rangers in 1975 and they would continue that trend for years to come. Between the start of 1975 and 1981, the Penguins found 15 victories, 9 losses, and 5 ties.

While the Rangers found some periods of resurgence against the Penguin, their winning percentage would gradually slip over the decades. Today, the Rangers sit ahead of the Penguins with 120 wins, 32 ties, and 114 losses. (Quick note: I counted shootouts as ties.) At their height in 1989, the Rangers had 24 more wins than losses against the Penguins. Today they sit only 6 regular season victories ahead of their rival.

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More Importantly: Playoff Match-Ups History

It was not until the 1981-82 season that the Rangers and Penguins were placed in the same conference (and division). Prior to that, the only opportunity for these two teams to meet in the playoffs was in the Stanley Cup Final and that simply did not happen. However, even then it took until 1989 for these two teams to find each other in the playoffs. By then, the Penguins were led by three 100-point scorers (most notably, Lemieux with 199 pts) while the Rangers’ best talent was a budding Brian Leetch who captured the Calder with 71 pts in 68 games played. Unsurprisingly, the Penguins swept the Rangers in the first round.

The Penguins would win additional series against the Rangers in 1992 (where they went on to win the Stanley Cup), 1996, and 2008. However, the Rangers have reversed that trend with a 4-3 series win in 2014 and a 4-1 series win in 2015.

Notable Shared Players Throughout the Years

This year’s rosters will include five players who are playing against their former squad. The players and their stats for when they played for their upcoming opponent are as follows:

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Interesting note: The Rangers traded Pascal Dupuis on February 27, 2007, to the Atlanta Thrashers along with their 3rd round pick in 2007. That 3rd round pick was then included in a deal between the Thrashers and Penguins. The Penguins ultimately selected Robert Bortuzzo with that pick that originally belonged to the Rangers.

jagr-mulletJarogmir Jagr

The most prolific player to have spent time on both teams would have to be Jarogmir Jagr. Jagr is a historic figure in both franchises. He sits second in career games played, goals, assists, and points for the Penguins, behind only Mario Lemieux. He was a core piece of the Penguins team for 11 years, including the two Stanley Cup teams he played for in his teenage years. Jagr won five Art Ross trophies, two Pearson trophies, and one Hart trophy with the Penguins.

While Jagr was only a Ranger for four years and only won a Pearson trophy with them, he is remembered as one of their greatest players. He holds their single season records in goals and points. He elevated a team that was outside the playoff bubble into the post-season (even if only for a first round exit) in his four years with the Rangers.

Trading Partners in the 90s: Zubov, Nedved, Samuelsson, Robitaille, Hatcher, Kovalev, and Stevens

The Rangers made a significant trade with the Penguins in 1995 to try and repeat their 1994 Stanley Cup run. The Rangers gave up Sergei Zubov and Petr Nedved in exchange for Ulf Samuelsson and Luc Robitaille.

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Ulf Samuelsson as a former Rangers enforcer and current Rangers assistant coach.

Zubov and Nedved would combine for 233 points in 218 games with the Penguins. Through a 1996 trade for Kevin Hatcher, Zubov found his home in Dallas. Hatcher was then traded from the Penguins to the Rangers on September 30, 1999 for Peter Popovic.

 

Nedved returned to the Rangers via another trade in 1998 that sent Alexei Kovalev to the Penguins with some additional, lesser pieces going each way. Kovalev would be part of an eight-person trade back to the Rangers by the Penguins in 2003.

Robitaille would produce 117 points in 146 games with the Rangers before a 1997 trade for former Penguins star Kevin Stevens sent Robitaille to Los Angeles for his second of three stays with the Kings.

Samuelsson would stick with the Rangers for four years and accumulate 60 points and 475 PIMs in 287 games. He was traded to Detroit in 1999 for a package of draft picks. Samuelsson is presently an assistant coach with the New York Rangers.

imageAndy Bathgate

Finally, Rangers legend and Hall of Famer Andy Bathgate played for both franchises. Bathgate was a long-time Ranger who was the Rangers’ leading scorer from 1956 to 1963. As a result, he sits at fourth in career goals, assists, and points for the Blueshirts.

By the time the 1967 Expansion Draft came, Bathgate was playing for the Red Wings, who decided to leave him unprotected. The Penguins claimed him in the 19th round as the 112th overall pick. Bathgate scored the first goal of the Penguins franchise and led the team in scoring for their inaugural year. The Penguins would play him for one more year before trading him to the Vancouver  Blazers of the WHA.

In 2009, the Penguins selected his grandson Andy Bathgate, III, with the #151 overall pick in the 5th round of the entry draft. The younger Bathgate is currently playing for the Columbus Cottonmouths of the SPHL. Unfortunately, the elder Bathgate passed away on February 26, 2016, at the age of 83.