Gerard Gallant’s first-unit power-play habit hurts the Rangers’ present and future

Expert analysis of the Blueshirts

Inside the Rangers by Larry Brooks is a weekly Sports+ exclusive.

At 5:16 of the second period of Saturday’s scoreless game in San Jose, the Rangers went on the power play.

The Broadway Five took to the ice, as was only natural. The club’s top five offensive players are Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, Vincent Trocheck, and Adam Fox.

At 6:20, 1:04 into the man-advantage, play was stopped due to a Zibanejad one-timer, a Kreider deflection that went wide, a Fox shot off the post, and a Panarin drive that looked to hit the crossbar on its way into the crowd.

This was the ideal time to insert Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Jacob Trouba, and either K’Andre Miller or, more recently, Sammy Blais for the draw in the right-wing circle.

Evidently not. The initial unit remained despite dwindling results. At 6:51, the second unit finally lined up for a defensive zone draw. With 25 seconds remaining in the power play, the second unit had no opportunity to produce an opportunity.

Chris Kreider has been on the ice for all 14 power-play goals scored by the Rangers this season.
Through Getty Images, NHLI

The Blueshirts’ next power play opportunity in a scoreless game occurred at 15:42 of the third quarter. This time, the Broadway Five utilized around 1:30 of the man-advantage, with the first unit maintaining possession but generating only one shot on four tries, and the second unit making on-the-fly adjustments that led to one quick zone setup.

Shampoo, rinse, and repeat with conditioner. It was just A Day in the Life. This is the essence of the Rangers’ power play, on which a second-unit forward has not scored a goal since Gerard Gallant took over behind the bench at the beginning of last season, despite this extreme imbalance having taken root during David Quinn’s last season as head coach in 2020-21.

Last season, the Rangers scored 50 goals in five-on-four. Kreider was on the ice for 47, Zibanejad for 46, Fox for 43, Panarin for 41, and Ryan Strome for 40. This season, the Blueshirts have scored 14 goals in five-on-four. Kreider, Zibanejad, and Trocheck were on for all of them, while Panarin and Fox were on for 13 of them.

The Broadway Five consume between 76 and 78 percent of the team’s power-play time, or around 1:32 per man advantage. This typically leaves the second team with one entrance and one hurried attempt to establish themselves in the attacking zone.

That equates to almost nothing for the three most talented young forwards on the club, the three first-round picks in whom the franchise’s future appears to be heavily committed. That would be Lafreniere, Kakko, and Chytil, whose meager man-advantage touches limit their games and development opportunities.

Gerard Gallant has played the majority of power-play minutes for the Rangers since joining his first unit.
Corey Sipkin, New York Post

The Rangers’ first unit is formidable. There is no doubt about it. However, the output is not world-class. The Blueshirts’ time allocation does not provide league-leading figures. It’s not so. As of Monday morning, the team’s power play was ranked eighth at 23.5 percent.

The advantages of harmony

Perhaps, just possibly, the Rangers might benefit from a more balanced approach. Maybe, just maybe, the club would also be more effective at five-on-five if the Broadway Five — with the exception of Panarin, who also spends significant time on the penalty kill — did not get so many minutes and the Kids got more.

Lafreniere, who has not scored a power-play goal in 154 career games, may benefit from the additional touches and confidence boost that power-play responsibilities would bring to his five-on-five performance. Because that is not where everyone expected to be after last season’s postseason run.

A review of the top power plays in the league reveals that top units receive disproportionate ice time. No other club, however, skews as significantly as the Rangers and no other team skews with such an extreme five-man divide.

Colorado’s astounding 36.5 percent power play tops the NHL, with four players claiming at least 76 percent of the time and the fifth around 61 percent. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl each receive more than 80 percent of Edmonton’s power-play minutes, while the fourth and fifth members of PP1 receive less than 67 percent. Toronto’s top unit gets between 65-74 percent.

Alexis Lafreniere could be able to overcome his early-season troubles with a few more power-play scoring opportunities.
AP

Nonetheless, this Rangers time divide affects five-on-five play once more. If the growth of Lafreniere, Kakko, and Chytil is not the top priority for the Blueshirts, then something is amiss.

Opportunity cost

Lafreniere, in his third year, does not resemble an overall leader. Kakko, in Year 4, scarcely resembles a second-place finisher. There is an emphasis on teamwork and ice must be acquired. That is comprehended. There is no correlation between selection position and ice time. No, that is not how a successful operation would function.

However, the Rangers must find a method to maximize Lafreniere and Kakko’s success potential. The same holds true for Chytil. Drafted 21st overall in 2017, he is in a contract year in which his ice time and opportunities have suffered as a result of the excessive minutes given to the centers ahead of him.

The paucity of power-play opportunities for Filip Chytil might cost him when he negotiates a new deal after the season.
Getty Pictures

There may come a point when it is best to move Panarin to Chytil’s left while moving Lafreniere up with Zibanejad and Kreider with Trocheck (who has formed zero connection through six weeks with Panarin). That would indicate a major upheaval.

A simpler approach, though, would be to give the second power play unit a real opportunity. This may begin on Tuesday in Los Angeles.

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