New York Rangers, Peter Laviolette

Rangers’ Improved 5-on-5 Play Showing Early in Preseason

The first two games of the Peter Laviolette era on Broadway have given us something we have not seen in quite some time. The New York Rangers have won the 5-on-5 play in their first two preseason games despite their 1-1-0 record.

For years, the Rangers have been abysmal analytically at even strength. Since 2020, their 48.14 Corsi for percentage (CF%) ranks 23rd in the league. Despite their recent playoff berths and success, the Blueshirts’ modus operandi has always been to survive at even strength and let superb goaltending and special teams win the game.

Miraculously, it has worked, primarily due to the goaltending of Igor Shesterkin the past few seasons and, of course, Henrik Lundqvist before that. Great goalies have kept the Rangers afloat, but if only the emphasis were put on improving 5-on-5 play, then this time would start improving dramatically.

Igor Shesterkin New York Rangers
Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’s only two games, but the structure and transition game for the Rangers has looked good, while the puck possession metrics are favoring them. It is a welcome sight for a fan base that has watched the Rangers get outplayed at 5-on-5 on a nightly basis.

Now, winning does cure everything, and despite the lackluster analytic performance, the Rangers were winning games. They were, and in some ways still remain, an analytical anomaly. But the winning only hid their true flaws, and a postseason defeat at the hands of the New Jersey Devils last year showed how hard it is to overcome poor even-strength play on a consistent basis.

Rangers Controlling Play at 5-on-5

The Rangers have played both the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders thus far in the preseason. Per Natural Stat Trick, they finished above a 58 CF% in each game. The hope was for them to finally crack the 50 percent mark this season, which they have blown past right out of the gate.

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Yes, preseason games are meaningless, but the insight they give us into the Rangers’ new style of play is not. For the Blueshirts to succeed, they need to be able to transition the puck and possess it much more effectively than they have the past few seasons.

Laviolette and his staff are looking to instill a work ethic that forces his team to outwork the opposition. That want for the puck has evaded the Rangers’ identity in the past. They have always been comfortable without possession, relying on their counterattack and goaltending.

Through the first two preseason games, we have seen the Rangers possess the puck and dictate the play for large portions of the game. There have been times at which the forecheck has hemmed the opponents into the zone. Breaking out of their own end has looked smoother as well, with multiple passing options in their own zone and the neutral zone.

Outside of a couple of miscues in the opener against the Bruins, the Rangers have managed to play as well as a five-man unit can play right out of the gate. The best thing is it’s not just the NHL regulars who are buying in, but the guys who will be extras and call-ups are buying into the system and demonstrating their ability to have success playing it.

Laviolette Has Had Success at 5-on-5

With the exception of last season’s debacle in Washington, Laviolette has had success getting his teams to a level analytical playing field. Since 2013-14, every one of his teams has been at or above a 50 CF%, besides last season’s Capitals.

That success at 5-on-5 is something the Rangers need to bring into their game, and Laviolette’s system has that attribute. The Rangers are coming off another season below a 50 CF%, finishing with a 49.80 CF%. Although an improvement on their marks in years past, it still does not replicate the Corsi percentage that Laviolette has proven he can generate.

If the Rangers, who have been able to string together back-to-back 100-point seasons despite having horrid numbers at 5-on-5, can replicate Laviolette’s past success, this will be a very solid hockey team. Laviolette may be an old-school coach by nature, but his approach is not one that values size and grit over skill and talent.

He stresses a hard-working game with structure and systems that allow his team to transition from defense to offense and possess the puck. He did not have the talent on both sides of the puck last season in Washington that he will have this season in New York. Most importantly, he has not had a goaltender as talented as Shesterkin since prime Pekka Rinne was doing his thing for the Predators.

Laviolette and his staff will get the most out of this Rangers team, instilling an identity that will hopefully make them harder to play against. Owning the puck has been something the Rangers have not demonstrated in several seasons, and the first two preseason games show reason for optimism that a change is coming.

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