Gerard Gallant is immersed in Rangers analytics, but he’s still going to go with his instincts

Gerard Gallant is immersed in Rangers analytics, but he’s still going to go with his instincts

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.

New York Rangers assistant coach Gord Murphy, top left, confers with head coach Gerard Gallant in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche, Friday, Dec. 9, 2022, in Denver.
Gerard Gallant reads over what the Rangers’ analytics department sends him every day, but he will set the numbers aside if they don’t match up with what he and the coaching staff are seeing on the ice.AP

“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.

Alex Lyon #34 of the Florida Panthers makes the save on Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on January 23, 2023 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Panthers 6-2.
Publicly available advanced statistics show the Rangers have been more aggressive on offense this season, improving in the number of shots they are taking and in their scoring chances.Getty Images

“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.

Jaroslav Halak #41 of the New York Rangers makes a save during the second period when the New York Rangers played the Vegas Golden Knights Friday, January 27, 2023 at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, NY.
After a slow start to his Blueshirts career, backup netminder Jaro Halak has displayed the kind of dominance not seen from a Rangers backup goalie in almost 10 years.Robert Sabo for the NY Post

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

New York Rangers left wing Sammy Blais (91) skates with the puck against the Dallas Stars during the first period at Madison Square Garden.
Sammy Blais’ trip to Hartford appeared to help him rediscover his goal-scoring touch.USA TODAY Sports

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.