Gerard Gallant receives reports every day from the analytics department. The Rangers head coach even reads them and surely respects the work that goes into compiling them.
But at the end of the day, a set of data may inform the coach and his staff, but it will not be determinative if the gut and feel conflict with the numbers.
“You get support from [reports],” Gallant said hours before the Rangers wrapped up the pre-All-Star-break portion of the season on Friday. “You look at it, you read it. If it’s good, you use it. If it’s not, you go with what you want to go with. I’m not going to change.”
Gallant is an old-school guy who has been at it since his first job behind the bench of his hometown Summerside (PEI) Capitals of the Maritime Junior Hockey League in 1995-96. If a player passes his eye test, he is not likely to defer to reports that might indicate otherwise.
Put it this way: He probably would not be hired by Brian Cashman of the Yankees.
“We do our stuff every day,” Gallant said while deploying less than tech-savvy verbiage to describe the process he and his staff practice. “We pay attention to [the daily analytics report]. I pay attention to stuff that we do. If some stuff over here matches with what’s there, that’s exactly what we do.
“You can get all kinds of stuff we do as coaches — old-school coaches, whatever you want to call it. You match it together and there’s not a big difference.”
The public analytics have improved in key areas for the Rangers. After ranking 25th last season in five-on-five shot-attempt percentage at 47.03, the Blueshirts are ninth this season at 51.9 percent. Last year, they ranked 31st in shot attempts per 60:00 at 49.33; the Blueshirts now rank 14th at 57.52. (The data is courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.)
Surely, the Rangers grade players on entries, breakouts and more defined areas of the game. But much of the analysis seems to focus on scoring chances — not just the number or the grade, but from where they originate and how. Reports from the analytics department, for the most part, seem to line up with the coaching staff’s analysis.
“When we get the scoring chances [report] after a game, most of the time they’re pretty close, pretty similar,” Gallant said. “Very seldom are they off base. There are all kinds of scoring chances: Grade-A, B, C, whatever you want to do.
“I’ve been coaching for a while and I do what feels comfortable for me, what’s best for me and what’s best for our staff.”
The process seems to be working. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Rangers are 21st in the league at in scoring chance rate, at 50.04 percent, which has the team in the middle of six clubs bunched between 49.46 percent and 50.57 percent. The Rangers were 26th last season at 46.05 percent.
From the bottom up
Jaro Halak became the first goaltender in six decades — since Gilles Villemure had gone 0-3-3 from 1963-64 through 1967-68 in fill-ins for injured Blueshirt No. 1s — to open his Rangers career by going winless in his first six starts (0-5-1).
But just as the man in the seemingly primitive jack-o-lantern mask turned his career around to become part of the tandem, with Eddie Giacomin, to capture the Vezina in 1970-71 — when the award was granted to the goaltenders on the team that allowed the fewest goals — so has No. 41.
In going 5-0 in his past five starts while compiling a .937 save percentage and a 1.81 GAA, Halak became the first Rangers backup to win five straight starts since Cam Talbot in his rookie 2013-14 season. After losing his NHL debut in Philadelphia by a score of 2-1 on Oct. 24, 2013, Talbot won his next five starts, allowing two goals or fewer in each.
When Giacomin and Villemure won the Vezina in 1971, skating off together with hands clasped high in the air to a roaring ovation at the Garden following a shutout victory in the season finale, it marked the second time in franchise history the Blueshirts had captured the trophy — and the first time since Davey Kerr captured the hardware in 1940.
Oh, the omen.
Oh, Game 7 in Chicago, where the Rangers fell 4-2 to end their season in the conference semifinals.
The methodology in determining the Vezina winner changed in 1981. Since then, the trophy has been awarded to the best goaltender as voted by NHL general managers. Rangers goaltenders have won the balloting three times: John Vanbiesbrouck in 1986, Henrik Lundqvist in 2012 and Igor Shesterkin last year.
Long time coming
When Sammy Blais scored for the Wolf Pack on Jan. 25, it marked the winger’s first goal in an official game since May 19, 2021, when he scored in Game 2 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs while playing for the Blues against the Avalanche.
(Blais, in Hartford on a 14-day conditioning loan, did score two goals for the Rangers in the 2021-22 exhibition season.)
No. 91, who has recorded two goals in three games for the AHL club, should be back when the Blueshirts pick up the schedule on Feb. 6 at the Garden against the Flames.
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