BUFFALO — In discussing possession stats and other analytics the other day, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said his staff keeps their own numbers, including scoring chances.
Although the coaches use the stats as a tool, Vingeault said he favors two things that, in his mind, are a real barometer of success: “Timely goals and timely saves.”
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It’s fortunate that he isn’t including scoring by defensemen in that assessment.
Since coming out of the gates on a tear, Rangers forwards are scoring enough for the team to continue to lead the league in goals, with 88. The Flyers are the closest team to the Blueshirts, with 74.
Imagine if the Rangers defensemen were putting the puck in the net?
Of those 88 goals, only seven have come from defensemen — to be accurate, three defensemen.
Nick Holden and Dan Girardi have three goals each; Marc Staal has one. Kevin Klein, who had nine goals last season, has none in 21 games. Ryan McDonagh and Brady Skjei have collected 25 assists between them, but no goals.
Nineteen teams — nine in the East and 10 in the West — have more production from their bluelines.
Consider: The Flyers, Canadiens and Kings have a league-best 16 goals from defensemen, the Islanders 15. The Devils and Panthers have 13 each, as do the Sharks and Predators.
Only seven teams have fewer than seven: the Canucks, Jets, Avalanche, Penguins, Capitals, Bruins and Sabres. And six of them have played fewer games than the Rangers.
Incredibly, the Sabres (8-9-5), who host the Rangers for the first time this season on Thursday, have just one goal from a d-man: Cody Franson. It’s not surprising that Buffalo ranks dead last in goals, with 43 in 22 games.
Scoring from the back end can be critical when forwards are injured or slumping. With center Mika Zibanejad (broken leg) and Pavel Buchnevich (back spasms) missing the last five games — with more to come — the Rangers are 2-3 and have scored just 12 goals, or 2.40 per game, compared to their season average of 3.67.
And speaking of forwards who aren’t hot, here’s three: Brandon Pirri, one goal in last 17 games; Chris Kreider, one goal in last 13 (separated by two games sidelined with neck spasms); Mats Zuccarello, one in 11.
Nonetheless, the Rangers closed November 10-4-1 and are 7-3-0 on the road. One forward who should help the Sabres Thursday is Jack Eichel, 20, who was taken with the No. 2 overall pick in 2015 and posted 24 goals and 56 points in his rookie season. He returned from a high ankle sprain that kept him out until Tuesday night, and he scored a goal and assist to help his teammates beat Ottawa 5-4.
The Rangers did not practice Wednesday, so it is unclear whether Henrik Lundqvist (11-6-1, 2.40 GAA, .916 save percentage) will be back in net Thursday. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said goalie Robin Lehner, who was removed from the Ottawa game, was day-to-day with a hip injury. Backup Anders Nilsson (3-2-2, 2.20, .939) is expected to start.