News of Martin St. Louis’ knee injury necessitates some significant changes to the Rangers’ lineup, both in the forward lines and the power-play units. According to Andrew Gross, Alain Vigneault showed off these forward lines at this afternoon’s practice:
- Kreider – Stepan – Nash
- Hayes – Brassard – Zuccarello
- Hagelin – Sheppard – Miller
- Glass – Moore – Fast
Every single line is different from what the Rangers started with on Sunday evening against Florida, so let’s take them one by one:
A silver lining to St. Louis’ injury (in addition to forcing him to get some rest down the stretch), is that it will hopefully jump-start Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan, the latter of whom has been held without a point in ten straight games. Despite that line’s struggles, they’ve been together for the better of four months now, and swapping in Nash for St. Louis should improve its 5v5 presence. This trio was together for a large chunk of the 13/14 season (over 450 minutes), and achieved great success to the tune of 56.1% possession and out-scored the opposition 26-12.
On the Derick Brassard line, Kevin Hayes shifts back to the wing to re-unite a line that played together on February 24th against Calgary when Rick Nash was sidelined with neck spasms. On paper, this line should work pretty well. In the one game they played together, they were on the ice for 14 shot attempts for and only five against, and contributed to score the only goal in a 1-0 win. The only downside to moving Hayes to the wing…
… is that James Sheppard now has to play center. The general consensus on Sheppard is that he’s very effective in a fourth-line role on the wing, and much less so in the middle. Take a look at the goal Sheppard scored on Sunday, he’s best utilized down low on the forecheck, attributes that are less pronounced at center. He played a great deal of third-line center for the Sharks last year, something Fear the Fin found very frustrating. I highly recommend reading that whole post, but here are a couple excerpts:
Sheppard’s [move to the third-line] proceeded to stabilize the bottom six, scoring 11 points in his first 15 games as the team’s third-line center and spearheading an effective depth scoring line finally capable of filling the void left by a unit built around Pavelski.
Or so the story goes, anyway. In reality, Sheppard has struggled with the defensive responsibilities of playing center, something that’s been largely obscured thanks to him and his linemates’ fortunate run of putting the puck in the net.
…the Sharks fall from a top possession team in the NHL to a league-average one with him on the ice as a third-line center
The “new” fourth line is a familiar sight, as Glass – Moore – Fast has been more or less a constant since November. Tanner Glass is a huge drag on the fourth line, and in turn, the rest of the lineup. In just about 150 minutes of ice time together, the line is at 46.5% possession and has been out-scored six to two.
Perhaps the most interesting development out of practice was a new power-play setup. The top unit is now composed of four forwards and one defenseman (Stepan, Brassard, and Kreider up front, with Nash and Keith Yandle on the points).
This is the kind of aggressive move that I’m glad Alain Vigneault is willing to experiment with. The power-play has clearly struggled lately, even with the addition of Yandle, generating just 89.2 shot attempts per 60 minutes of power-play time in the small sample since the trade. Prior to the Yandle trade, the Rangers’ power-play generated 101.2 shot attempts per 60 minutes.
Putting four forwards on the power-play should give the unit a better chance to succeed. There is certainly the risk of allowing more shorthanded chances the other way, but Matt Cane looked at the risk and reward of a four-forward power-play and concluded:
The benefit of playing with 4 forwards clearly exceeds the risk: teams that played an all 4F approach would be expected to score an additional 3.3 PP goals over the course of an 82 game season, which works out to roughly half a win.
It does seem like one of those cases where the aggressive approach should payoff: regardless of the defensive risk that teams are taken by putting a forward on the point, the offensive benefit appears to outweigh it, and in the long run, teams that take this approach should see a non-negligible bump in their powerplay percentage.
The second power-play unit consisted of J.T. Miller, Hayes, and Mats Zuccarello up front, with Dan Boyle and Ryan McDonagh on the points. Fortunately, it looks like Dan Girardi’s time on the power-play is over, at least for the time being.
In sum, the changes to the forward lines in light of St. Louis’ injury present a mixed bag at even strength; they appear to jolt the top-six at the expense of the bottom-six, and the changes to the power-play should increase the number of scoring chances with the man advantage.