The Rangers performance on the power play this season has been infinitely better and more consistent than it was last year, or for the past several seasons, for that matter. One of the reasons just might be that the team works at it pretty much on a daily basis, as evidenced Saturday afternoon at the MSG Training Center.
Coaches Alain Vigneault and Scott Arniel put the first and second units through their paces during 5-on-4 power play practice, as well as working on both 5-on-3 and 4-on-3 situations, in rapid-fire order. Successes against goaltenders Henrik Lundqvist and Cam Talbot were met with whoops, hollers, and sticks banging on the boards. Orders were given by coaches and received by the players.
As usual, it all looked pretty crisp out there Saturday, just as the power play has looked crisp for the majority of the 2013-14 season. In fact the Rangers performance on the power play this season has been a real positive game-changer for the team, especially as of late.
"We just have a lot more confidence on it," explained Brad Richards, who quarterbacks the Rangers power play along with Ryan McDonagh. "The coaches have kept the same units together where there were a lot of moving parts last year and it was tough sometimes to get on the same page. Some nights it hasn't been good, but we get back to practice the next day and go to work on it. We're always working on it."
Last season the Rangers power play ranked 23rd in the 30-team National Hockey League, and was just short of abysmal during the playoffs often costing the Rangers momentum and wasted opportunities, and very likely wins. This year with the power play ranking 6th overall, converting at 21.3 percent, the Rangers have become a force with the man advantage and it has become an important weapon for the team.
"One thing when a power play works, it keeps the other team on its toes because they don't want to see our power play out on the ice," explained Vigneault. "Our power play has been working real well for us, giving us momentum with some timely goals."
Vigneault laughed at his Saturday post-practice press conference when asked about the power play.
"When I first came here that's all anybody wanted to talk about, the power play, the power play!," said a laughing Vigneault.
That was for good reason because even with some hig-caliber talent the past few years the Rangers power play had become a detriment more than a boost game-in and game-out.
After going 1-for-2 with the man advantage Friday night--with Derick Brassard's game-tying goal coming on the power play--the Rangers have recorded power play goals in a season-best four consecutive games, going 5-for-13 in this recent stretch. Since December 18th the Rangers have scored at least one power play goal in nine of 12 games, going 13-for-42 along the way.
On December 29th the Rangers beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 by and large due to their red-hot power play which went a perfect 3-for-3 that night. Seven times this season the Rangers have produced more than one power play goal in a game.
"Our power play has been playing really well," noted goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. "We are creating a lot of chances, and grabbing momentum with our power play, which is really important."
Richards singled out the emergence of both Brassard and Benoit Pouliot as key factors in the team's turnaround on the power play over the past month or so. Both Brassard and Pouliot have five power play goals, most on the team. Ten of their 15 combined goals this season have come on the man advantage. Three other Blueshirts--Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, and Ryan Callahan--have four power play goals so far.
In fact so good have the Rangers two power play units been recently that Callahan--who netted a career-high 13 power play goals two years ago--has not been able to work his way back on to the power play since returning from a sprained knee.
"We can't make a change right now, both units are playing so well," noted Vigneault.
Count on one thing, though. Whether the Rangers deliver again or not on the power play Sunday, they'll be practicing it as usual Monday. Practice may not make perfect, but it sure seems to help.