Tortorella’s adjustment of line matchups pays off

Today’s discussion is about the importance of a coach’s ability to figure out what role his player’s fulfill and how he matches those roles against the opposition.

Last night’s battle against the Devils was a very critical lesson in the use of players, their roles and their respective matchups. Tortorella was constantly making adjustments to get the right players out on the ice. These critical moments of a game are so often overlooked and seldom discussed, yet they are crucial to help producing wins.

A great example of this happened last night just before a neutral zone faceoff. Devils coach, Peter Deboer swapped out, I believe it was Parise, for Eric Boulton. In case you are unfamiliar with Boulton, he is a goon, nothing more. So Deboer lines up Boulton opposite Gaborik and he immediately began chirping & challenging him. Recognizing this mismatch before the draw, Tortorella yelled at Arty to get off the ice so he could put Rupp out there and prevent any wrong doing to our sniper.

The refs wouldn’t allow it, which of course enraged John Tortorella. His argument was that Deboer was late sending Boulton to the draw, therefore the Rangers technically should get the final change per the NHL rules. This obviously fell on deaf ears.

After the faceoff Arty quickly went to the bench and Rupp was dispatched. Boulton, a double digit fighter every season, wanted no part of Rupp and quickly retreated to the bench. I don’t think I need an advanced statistic to tell you how important Rupp’s presence was in that instant. Now picture this moment taking place in the playoffs…moving right along.

Later in the game Deboer again delayed deploying his troops for a faceoff even though the Rangers were ready to take the draw. Torts had an exchange with the refs and was pointing to the Devils bench boss. Filling in the blanks, I think it was evident Torts was frustrated with being the home team and not being able to get the final change due to Deboer’s delaying (if not illegal) tactics.

Torts obviously wanted to deploy certain Rangers based on who Deboer put on the ice. The refs seemingly were arguing that they needed to get the game going. Torts clearly replied, “well then drop the f**king puck,” even though the Devils were just standing alongside their bench.

Again, this illustrates how critical it is for coaches to get the matchups they want. The fact of the matter is John has been making adjustments like these all season, often to the frustration of fans who sometimes do not understand the purpose of line tinkering on the fly. Torts famously out line matched Peter Laviolette at the Winter Classic, despite having the last change, and he made his best attempts last night whether it was Rupp goading Clarkson into a penalty or getting McDonagh out on the ice every time Parise hoped off the bench.

Hopefully this helps explain some of the odd, yet impermanent line combos you’ll see throughout the NHL.

9 Responses to “Tortorella’s adjustment of line matchups pays off”

  1. Dave says:

    Good post. Line matchups are one of those overlooked aspects in hockey. The coach has a lot to do on every shift.

  2. Chris F says:

    I always enjoy explaining these nuances to my hockey-challenged friends.

    They have no idea about lines, defensive pairings, changing on the fly, individual match-ups, etc. These strategic details, though, are a nice seller for the game. People appreciate this once they understand it.

    Nice post.

  3. The Suit says:

    Thanks. I wish the TV booth guys focused on this more. I think it would fan the flames of some of the negativity surrounding some of the personnel decisions.

  4. Justin says:

    Excellent analysis as always Suit. This aspect of the game gets almost no play from analysts and commentators. The most we get is top pair defenders against top scoring lines. Torts has done a great job with his match-ups, and while I don’t always see the sense in certain combinations, I’m always confident he has a plan, even if it’s not clear to us.

  5. Kevin says:

    Great analysis here. Just to clarify though, the Devils have stopped playing a trap under Deboer. The Rangers however, clog the neutral zone (1-2-2) under Tort’s system and do it quite effectively.

  6. The Suit says:

    Correct Justin. The Rangers run a 2-1-2 forecheck and the Devils run a 1-2-2 hybrid trap, as witnessed last night.

    Kevin this means NJD will clog the neutral zone, but forecheck in spurts. It isn’t as conservative as the pre-lock out trap, which was more 1-4 or even 0-5, but it’s still a trap none the less.

  7. Ray says:

    Excellent Post !!

  8. Walt says:

    Great post, that is S. O. P. for you guys!

    Torts really does the changing very well, and as mentioned, during the classic, Pete was frustrated behind his bench, and eventually stopped trying to match lines. That eventually worked right into Tort’s hands, and as they say, the rest is history.