It’s easy to see that for the Rangers, special teams are trending up.
The power play has risen to the fifth in the NHL and the penalty-kill, having denied 25 of the last 27 opportunities, has climbed to 11th. Just two weeks ago, the power play was ranked 12th and the penalty-kill was 23rd at 77.8 percent.
But most minutes are played at even strength and the Rangers, who have won five straight and are 7-2 after their 1-5-2 start, have improved their five-on-five play, too.
Last season, the top 15 teams in total goal-scoring were above 76.3 percent at even strength. The Blueshirts are closing in on that. Of their 56 goals, 39 have come at even strength, 15 on the power play, and two empty-netters for a 69.6 percentage. They have not scored shorthanded.
Scoring five-on-five is important, but so is keeping pucks out of the net. The Rangers have allowed 43 goals at even strength and have scored 39. The league’s midpoint for teams last season was about 1-to-1.
“Since we started winning games on this little streak,” said Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, “we’re a lot smarter five on five, understanding when there’s an opportunity offensively, and when there’s a time to really pack it in and be patient, try to keep them to the outside and protect the danger area.”
McDonagh said: “We’ve given up some goals five on five, that’s going to happen, and we’re continuing to work on that. But the mindset and thought process is a lot better . . . We’re not looking for offense by giving up our defensive play. It might have been the case early on when you’re trying to get some confidence and get rolling, but we understand what we can get off of playing good defense. Everybody gets involved, it’s an easier game for us; you’re not stuck on your own end, and you have some energy to go on the offensive side.”
Brady Skjei, who has been paired with Kevin Shattenkirk, agreed with McDonagh. “It starts defensively, but it’s (five-on-five) improved all around the five or six games,” he said. “Teams aren’t getting the full-on, Grade-A chances, especially on that Florida trip. Our main focus is protecting the slot, that’s where most goals come from, off that a D can jump in, and we can go from there.”
Although the Rangers have pulled out of the nosedive, the Edmonton Oilers, who visit the Garden in a Saturday matinee and played in Newark Thursday, are still struggling. Before the Devils game, they had just 32 goals, were 5-8-1, in 29th place, and in the bottom five on special teams.