The New York Rangers have found a sustainable special teams model

Special teams are important for the Rangers, and will be increasingly vital as the playoffs go on
New York Rangers v Washington Capitals - Game Four
New York Rangers v Washington Capitals - Game Four / Scott Taetsch/GettyImages

For the first time in 17 years, the New York Rangers completed a playoff sweep, bringing down the Washington Capitals in four games to move on to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Rangers are the first team to advance to the second round.

One of the main reasons the Rangers were able to trounce Washington is because of the man advantage on both sides - New York had far superior special teams in every game, and this made the difference. Whenever the Capitals seemed to come to life, the Rangers would find contributions on the power play and short handed.

Special teams was one of the biggest indicators of success for the Rangers in this series, and it will be for the rest of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Here's why.

The Rangers have had a sustainable special teams model for years

During the 2023 season, one of the biggest criticisms against the Rangers was their play at even-strength: New York does not rank among the league's best at 5v5, having a 2.42 xGoals For per 60 minutes compared to a 2.49 xGoals Against. Moreover, New York ranked 21st in the regular season in xGoals percentage at 5v5, and only one team below them made the postseason: Washington.

This goes back a few years, as in the 2022 and 2021 seasons, the Rangers were never at the top in 5v5 metrics, and moreover, it has always been one of the biggest criticisms against the Blueshirts. But, this is where special teams come in.

For three seasons now, New York has had a special-teams dependent model: both its power play and penalty kill have constantly ranked in the league's top ten, and this has led to success. The numbers are apparent - in 2021-2022, when the Rangers finished second in the Metropolitan, they had the fourth best power play in the regular season along with the seventh-best penalty kill (25.2% and 82.3% respectively).

It translated to the postseason: the run to the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals was fueled by special teams, as the Rangers had the second-best power play throughout the playoffs at 32.1%. Moreover, the two teams they beat, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes, were poor at the man-advantage, Pittsburgh at 26.1% and Carolina at 13.0%.

If that isn't enough for special teams translating to postseason success, look at last season's first round exit against the New Jersey Devils. New York's power play, which was seventh in the NHL during the regular season, had a success rate of 17.9% over the seven games, which aprtially led to its downfall. Look at Game Seven: the Rangers were 0-3 on the power play in the first period, and the Devils scored the first goal of the game shorthanded. If New York capitalizes, that game and series goes differently.

Now, this season: the Rangers had the third-best power play and penalty kill during the regular season at 26.4% and 84.5%, respectively. New York put up the best regular season record, and it immediately translated to the postseason when they faced an inferior Washington team.

In Games Two, Three and Four, New York's game-winning goal was not at even strength: Games Two and Three were shorthanded by K'Andre Miller and Barclay Goodrow, then in Game Four, Artemi Panarin's power play goal in the third period was the difference-maker. Moreover, lead-taking goals were at the man-advantage, whether Jack Roslovic in Game Two or Vincent Trocheck in Game Four.

This goes to show how lethal New York is at the man-advantage, but moreover how important it is against every team to capitalize. The Rangers' kill also came up big time and time again: over the four games, the Capitals were 2-17 on the power play. Special teams are important.

Whether in a small or broad context, the Rangers have proven a sustainable model over the past three seasons: average 5v5 play can be hidden by good special teams play, especially in the postseason. This is not to say the Rangers can be poor at even-strength; in fact it needs vast improvement moving on. But, it shows how special teams are, and have been, New York's bread and butter for a while.

And, it will be more important moving on.

Special teams are going to become more important in these playoffs

Whether the Washington series or any game, it's clear how much special teams make a difference. Now, the Rangers will presumably play the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round (if the Islanders come back, the message is still the same).

Carolina also has top special teams metrics: in the regular season, the Canes were had the second best power play at 26.9% combined with the best penalty kill in the NHL at 86.4%. Throughout this series, New York will not have a major advantage on the power play or shorthanded.

This means 5v5 play will be important, but furthermore, both teams will have to be opportunistic on the man-advantage. It also means, for New York's case, take less penalties - the Rangers averaged 4.25 penalties-taken per game in the First Round, and Carolna will capitalize.

The Rangers have won four games out of 16, and if they want to continue winning, the power play and penalty kill are going to be important. The past three seasons show that. Assuming it is Carolina, each team will get their opportunities in what should be an exciting series.

If the Rangers come out victorious in this series and ones to come, expect special teams to be one of the main reasons.