Based on Watching the Games™, it seems like the Rangers are playing better than last season. While the 2015/16 team started 6-2-1-1 in its first ten games, I think the conventional wisdom was that the team was being outplayed, but riding a hot start from the normally slow-starting Lundqvist. The 2016/16 team has started out 7-3, and I'd bet the CW is the opposite - this is a strong team mostly outplaying the opposition, and the skaters' performance is overcoming a slow start by Lundqvist.
One thing is for sure - 2016/17 Rangers fans are pretty positive about this start - especially considering how low a lot of expecations were. The "window is closing"..."losing Yandle was a huge mistake"..."the bottom 4 D are going to make a tire fire seem like a 4th of July sparkler." When you see a team scoring as 40 goals in 10 games like the NYR have to start this season, it is hard not to be excited. But how much of that is feeling ignoring actual results?
Let's dive into the numbers a little, and see how this team compares up to the 2015/16 season, 10 games in. [All data Corsica.Hockey, except any traditional boxcars from NHL.com, which I refuse to link to. 5v5 data is score, venue, and zone adjusted].
**Warning - LOTS of numbers here.**
Quick note - all "negative" numbers are in red, but that doesnt mean they are not an improvement. For "against" stats, obviously a decrease is good.
Right off the bat, I was surprised to see Corsi so flat. The NYR seem like they are rolling over opponents, shot wise, but in fact, the quantities of shot attempts (shots, really), both for and against, is basically flat.
Fenwick, which excludes blocks, shows some improvement, but again minor. Whether you believe shot-blocking is a skill or not, it doesnt really seem to be something affecting the NYRs shot rates in a way different than it did last season.
For actual shots on goal, I was again surprised to see a *decrease* in SF60 (though pleased to see one in SA60, even if it is small). This team seems like it flirts with 40 shots a night, but that's not really been the case.
Now we're getting somewhere - Corsi and Shots may be flat, but Scoring Chances (defined by Corsica in the 2nd-to-last paragraph here) show some real improvement, both in overall counts, and per 60s. I haven't looked into it, but I'm going to assume going from basically even in 2015 to a +32 so far is good. The Rangers might not be getting more of the shots overall, but a better percentage of the shots they are getting are "quality" chances. In 2015, the ratio of "Scoring Chances/SOG" was 31.6%. In 2016, that ratio is up to 41.4%...that seems like a good place to improve. Of course, not every SOG is a Scoring Chance. If you use Corsi instead of Shots, the "ratio" improvement is less pronouced - 18.0 to 20.3, but still an improvement.
That does seem to match my eyes - it *seems* like the NYR get a fair amount of good chances, like odd-man rushes and slot chances...
...and we see that to some degree here, at least with rebounds. I was surprised to see rush shots the same as last year. Grabner alone seems like he's had 200. But this type of data is incomplete. We don't have much data on things like "slot-line pass" or more precise definitions of what type of rush shots those are.
Bringing this all to expected goals and actual goals - we start to see something. At 5v5, the NYR are up in goals xGF60 and down (better) in xGA60. That translates into a 5 point increase in xGF%, and that 56.76% xGF% takes them from "Good" NHL team to Top NHL team (as of 11/2/16). Last season, the NYR got 67% of the goals, when they were expected to get 51%. This year - its 58%/56% - a much better ratio. Hank carried that burden last season, but hasn't had to so far this season....
...and we see that here. Hank of October 2015 was nuts. Hank of October 2016 is basically average (so far dont @ me). The shooting percentage increase is high, and (extreme Robert Palmer voice): "Likely Unsustainable." But the higher percentage of their shots on goal being scoring chances, and the fact that the NYR have been a Top 5 shooting% team for 2 years running, may give some hope that a shooting% regression may not be as severe.
Lots on info on Zone Starts and Zone Finishes here - and honestly I dont see much of note. If there is a positive, it's probably that while the Zone Start Ratio went down (52.60% to 47.72%) (meaning that the NYR are seeing more DZ starts than OZ starts), the Zone FInish Ratio didn't go down as much (51.49% to 49.26%). Put another way, the ZFR is higher than the ZSR ratio this season, and it was the opposite last season. That suggests to me that the NYR are moving the play in the right direction this season. #HayesForSelke.
Giveaway/takeaway numbers probably aren't worth much - a lot depends on the counter, if I remember my JLikens-era fancystats correctly. And these are probably better as an individual rate stat.
But, forget that...a +24 seems like a huge swing in penalties drawn/taken. How much of that is randomness of officiating, how much of it is the NYR "speed" actually making a difference in forcing the opponents to take penalties, or, how much of it is the appearance of NYR speed influencing officiating, who knows. But it makes a huge difference, as we'll see whenever I get to add the PP/PK details to this series.
So are the NYR better than last year's team or not? Based on all of these 5v5 results alone, I think there's some real signs of improvement. Scoring chances are up, expected goals for and against are as well, and Hank should become Hank sooner or later. All of thise gives me some belief that this is a better NYR at 5v5. That said, my Eye Test would have me feel that this team is much better than these results may show.
One thing I think would really help here - for Corey (@ShutdownLine) to track some NYR games (see here for what he's doing, and here/here to donate to support it) so we can see the impact of zone entries, exits, and passing. He's basically taking over the 2016/16 "Passing Project" as part of his work, so sometime later in the year we'll get to see how passing data might be impacting the NYR shots and chances. Based solely on my eyes, it *looks* like the NYR are making better passes in all zones, especially the defensive zone, where it seems the forwards are really helping get the puck up and out. But again, without some data to show that, I tend to not put a lot of faith in my eyes.
Next, I'll take a look at PP and PK, and then, hopefully, look at the individual skaters year over year.
UPDATE: The reviews are already pouring in, and they are lukewarm, like a good English beer. As LW3H notes:
This is a good point. The NYR haven't had great luck when it comes to injuries in 2016 so far (at least compared to 2015) and that may be depressing some of their results. LW3H's injury tracking is a must follow, btw.
...Again I'm right in my analysis.