Summing up three losses: Losing battles in dirty areas

March 17, 2013, by
Fred Greenslade/Reuters

Fred Greenslade/Reuters

The Rangers have hit a speed bump in their season, dropping three straight in ugly fashion to the Sabres, Jets, and Penguins. While losing to the Penguins is par for the course for the Eastern Conference, the Rangers had four points slip through their fingers against Winnipeg and Buffalo. While everyone is hellbent on blaming the coach, Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Glen Sather, etc, let’s look at the real reason why the Rangers have hit this skid.

We have two goal breakdowns to look through from these games (we could not write one for Winnipeg, although I do remember how most of the goals were scored), and there’s a common trend in the goals the team surrenders. The Rangers are simply not fundamentally sound, and not winning the battles in the dirty areas. Those dirty areas are the boards and the front of the net.

Let’s start with Pittsburgh. The first goal the Penguins scored was because Taylor Pyatt lost a battle at the boards and failed to get the puck deep. Then Roman Hamrlik failed to win a board battle at the Rangers blue line, and that let Beau Bennett streak into the Rangers zone (Anton Stralman got caught flat-footed, but that’s besides the point here). This goal was a result of two board-battles lost.

The third Pittsburgh goal came when Brad Richards failed to get the puck deep, again losing a board battle to Matt effing Cooke. To add insult to injury, Richards didn’t backcheck properly (more details here), and the Pens wound up with a two-on-one. Both of these goals may have been avoided if the Rangers simply got the puck deep into the Pittsburgh zone.

Shifting to the Winnipeg game, the goal that sticks out in my mind is the Olli Jokinen goal, where he was left all by himself in front. No one challenged him, no one pushed him out of the way, nothing. Sure, it was a powerplay goal, and the Rangers penalty kill style doesn’t have one guy in charge of clearing the front of the net. But this isn’t about clearing the front of the net, which almost always results in a penalty, this is about tying up the guys in front on rebound chances. No one tied up Jokinen. The battle in front of the net wasn’t even a battle, it was the Rangers waving the white flag.

Now on to the Sabres game, where Marcus Foligno made the Rangers look silly at their own net. His first goal may have been pretty, but it was the result of him being in front of the net, and Nathan Gerbe also attempting to charge the net to cash in. Marian Gaborik was just sitting at the high slot. Gerbe was his man. If he ties him up, then it’s easier for McDonagh to tie up Foligno so that he doesn’t have the time to put the puck between his legs.

The third Sabres goal was almost identical to the first goal in the sense that McDonagh was again left all alone to clear two guys from the front of the net. Two more Rangers were so out of position they may as well have been on the bench. The Rangers were giving the Sabres the front of their net all game, and it cost them two goals.

The Rangers inability to win board battles and go to the dirty areas is costing them points in the standings. The Penguins game aside, they threw away four points against the Sabres and the Jets, of which only one team has a shot at making the playoffs. There’s only so much a coach can do. If the players don’t do their jobs in the system –something they were just fine doing last year– then it doesn’t matter who the coach is.

Categories : Analysis


  1. Joe says:

    Dave, I know you don’t like to blame anyone, and you definitely do not agree with me, however I thought what you said was very telling. You wrote “The Rangers are simply not fundamentally sound”. I am not sure where you obtained your sports knowledge, but I suspect it was from legitimate sources as your postings show obvious knowledge of the game and sports in general. I just can’t see where you get your blind faith in Torts. He has been here for 3 1/2 years and they are not “fundamentally sound”? Isn’t that the job of the head coach, to provide the fundamentals so that the players can then use their talent to achieve success? Thus my opinion that either he uses the wrong system for the talent in this organization, or has lost the faith of the players to play this system. Either way, it is time to move on and become a more offensive minded team and allow the fans to enjoy watching the talented forwards play, unfettered by the “defense first” style he employs. I truly appreciate what he has done for the Rangers but believe it is now time to move forward. His style is not working on a consistent enough basis.

    • VinceR says:

      The talented forwards ARE playing..,and they are making ill advised drop passes near the blue line or trying to skate through 4-5 defenders themselves.

      When they have open shots they are either passing or missing the nets. Getting the puck deep and forechecking will eliminate the turnovers at the blue line, get more time in opponents zone, lessen the chance of breaks the other way, and open scoring opportunities. It will also allow the dmen to get involved in the offense with less risk of getting caught.

      Defensive responsibility and back checking also helps the offense…you catch the opposition breaking in and you have a better chance of springing a forward or two for a break the other way. Then the talent can really be shown.

      Right now the forwards are trying too much while crossing the blue lines and that style is not getting it done…that is exactly what “letting them play” reaps.

      • Eric says:

        This team sucks, they are soft, uninterested with no fire or desire to win. They look completely lost out there and it is painful to watch. Torts needs to hit the road as he obviously has no control over this “team” anymore. Last year they looked great like they were all on board with the system and played as a team and stuck up for one another, good luck seeing any of that this year. The two biggest issues I see is #1 you’ll never get rid of Sather #2 looks like we won’t get rid of Torts either

        • Dave says:

          No one was saying this when they rattled off four in a row and five in six. It’s a bad run of bad hockey. They will come out of it.

          • rickyrants13 says:

            Thats BS I was still pointing out the flaws. You all ignored them then too. Everyone in here is either all on board or there not listened too.

            You guys prove it everytime someone has something negitive to say. WE SAY IT ALL THE TIME. and no one listens. You guys even told me that your here just to be fans. WELL real fans want to win. Real fans see the flaws. Real fans want the GM to do whats right and fire the coach. The coach that has clearly shown us In his weekly rants during press conf.

            Did anyone ever stop to think that the reason this team is making bone headed drop passes. And taking poor shots as well as making lazy clearing attemps IS BECAUSE they simply dont give a crap anymore????

            Why do players come here and all of a sudden forget how to play? We use to blame that on bringing in players who are paid too much and are just playing out their over paid contracts.

            But we cant say that anymore. Torts has turned ALLSTARS like Richards and Gabby into allso rans. And now even Nash isnt playing so hard.

            That tells a story. A story that only some of us are willing to see. Hey we all wish we lived in a perfect world and that we can just win with what we have. But it doesnt mean we can…..

            • Dave says:

              As we’ve said numerous times, we disagree with you. Period. There is no right answer here. We have our opinions, you have yours.

        • VinceR says:

          They looked great under him last year, but in this crazy, weird, sprint season they look bad…so they look great for a full season, make the ECF, come within a goal and a game of going to the SCF but after half of a 48 game season he has to go (we won’t go into the win streaks because that makes this even more confusing).

          Wasn’t the old knock against Sather he was too impatient and made crazy, drastic moves that kept the team from building forward?

          • rickyrants13 says:

            Vince we saw the flaws last year His style of play and only willing to roll 2 and half lines was killing us all year long. It wore thin on this team And thats why we lost out on the Presidents trophy. And why we struggled to beat two teams Just to get to the Devils. We were the far better team against NJ and we lost.

            When a team builds forward they go forward. This team is not making forward moves. The players are not learning to not make the same misstakes. As they did the year before. And in some casses they are getting worse.

            • VinceR says:

              My reply was directly to Eric. He said himself that they looked great last year. I was pointing out the conflicting logic in his post.

    • Dave says:

      I don’t have any sources, I write from what I observe. I played in college though, was a goalie.

      What I said was that over the past three games (I know that was misleading initially, I apologize), the Rangers have not done what they need to in order to win. They have not played along the boards well, they have not gone to the front of the net or protected their own. In short, that’s Hockey 101.

  2. The Suit says:

    Good post Dave. When the Rangers execute their system the right way, they can beat anyone. They’ve proved this time and time again. They simply haven’t been executing the last few games and have gotten burned by some mistakes.

    They need to keep it simple, get the puck deep and get back on the forecheck. They’ve been making too many turnovers at the blueline the last few games trying to be fancy. They’ll turn it around, start winning games, and everyone who comes here looking to blame the coach will go radio silent again…just like their last win streak.

    • Dave says:

      Yup, the system works, they proved it last year. It’s a matter of execution. I still believe that all the turnover and no preseason hurt them more than most.

  3. Rob says:

    The reason why were having problems scoring is not because Torts implements a “Defence” first team. If anything this team “tries” to play highly offensive.

    The reason why our GAA was so low last year was because of our success with T.O.P especially in the opponents zone with alot of cycling. Hold on to the puck as much as possible and buzz in the opponents zone with reckless abandon and add in a world class goalie on top of his game and all of this translated to a incorrect terminology in calling our team a “defensive” team. Our defense comes from the way we play offence, but we cant even do that this year, and thats the problem.

    • Joe says:

      I am sorry Rob, but I respectfully disagree. Tortorella constantly states that the Rangers are a “Defense First Team”, it’s is his words not mine. Yes when they play the system they sometimes play it well, so of course, suit, I won’t call for the coach to go during a 5 game win streak, what’s the sense, you guys blindly follow him through losing streaks and berate my opinion at the same time. Imagine how you would treat me if I stated it during a winning streak. Noone seems to be grasping what I am trying to say. When you have to concentrate on this type of system, it takes alot of your offensive mindset away. I truly believe this team would be much better in a offensively minded system than the one they currently play. I think they would score more goals and perhaps give up more as well. However I believe they would win more games (Lundquist), be much more entertaining, and be up for the challenge. I feel this way even when they win.

      • Dave says:

        Defense first doesn’t mean passive. You can play defense aggressively, as the Rangers do on the forecheck. But in their own zone they are a bit more passive. I’m of the belief they can be more aggressive in their zone, but I’m no coach.

      • The Suit says:

        Joe, I cover Tortorella’s system & strategies with great depth. I even wrote a post countering the notion that the Rangers are a “defense first team.” It’s a vague label that coaches and the media use frequently so they don’t have to get into specifics, but it’s essentially a meaningless term.

        If you want to learn more about the x’s and o’s of hockey beyond vague labels, please feel free to read my systems posts. You can start by reading the one about the strategies Torts uses.

        As far as saying, we blindly follow Torts during losing streaks, that simply isn’t the case, and it suggests you aren’t very familiar with this blog. We all have some level of playing experience and that is reflected in our our posts.

        We approach our coverage like we approach actually playing the game. We don’t over react to losses and we try to breakdown the game with great detail. I believe that is why 10K people show up every day to read us.

        • Joe says:

          Suit, please don’t let my no confidence vote in Torts give any reflection of my opinion of this blog. Just because I don’t agree does not mean I don’t love this blog, indeed I do, very much. That is why I come here every day to read what you guys say. It is without question the place I come to the most, by far, to get my Ranger info. I just don’t feel that he is right for the Rangers anymore. I believe it is a tough system for players to get up for night in and night out. As a result I believe his time to win was last year. After playing their hearts out to the best of their abilities last year and giving it everything they have, their goalie having a Vezina year, the result was they came up short of their goal. Perhaps the players are starting to feel this is just too difficult a way to play each and every night. Remember, elite athletes they certainly are, but they are also human. There are other ways to win hockey games and Championships. That is all I’m saying. He has had his turn. How long would you like to keep him on, until he wins or dies? When do you decide his system is no longer working?? Just curious. Once again I do love the blog. I have been reading it for 4 years now.

        • Joe says:

          Just read your systems blog…again. I don’t believe Defense first means Trap. Not in the least little bit. However, F**k up defensively in Torts system, neglect his defensive teachings, go for an offensive play and make a mistake, than maybe you spend the next 30 mins. or more on the bench. Again a tough way to play day in and day out for offensive players i.e. Richards, Nash, and Gaborik. Cally could do it but there are not many players like him! Sometimes a coach needs to fit the system to the talent, not the talent to the system, but Torts will not do that, thats why it is time for him to go. Believe it or not.

          • The Suit says:

            Oh I agree you have to tailor your system to your players and I have written extensively about how he’s made those adjustments. Sometimes it’s new breakouts, powerplay formations, defensive zone strategies and tweaking your line combos. I’ve covered it all.

            I believe they’ll get back on track. And that belief doesn’t come from blind hope, just an opinion based on my observations.

      • rickyrants13 says:

        Hey Joe I get everything your saying and so do many others. But like in many other forums some people have been made to feel like they are not allowed to speak their mind unless its RAH RAH RAH Lets go Rangers

        • VinceR says:

          Oh gawd, poor you ricky. But god forbid you actually accept that these opinions are what we believe…not some fantasy world bs of yours where we are ass-kissing. Again, ass-kissing who and for what reason? Why would we kiss up? Are we gonna get free tickets? There is no effing motive for “ass-kissing” THESE happen to be our OPINION. ALLSTAR! KING! GOALIE! LOUD NOISES! RANDOM CAPS!

          No one is stopping you from posting your opinions but you seem to think we don’t have the right to respond to your opinions? Is that what I’m getting? You post something and people disagree with you and it’s unfair?

  4. Rob says:

    Ye Joe absoluely man. I expected many people to dis-agree with me as they should. Nobody truly has a magic answer for whats going on this year but it’s the way I’ve seen things over the past 3- 4 years with this coach. It pains me to death to hear everyone call this team defensive, especially the so called pro analysts when I believe its absolute lunacy to call this team defensive first. They play forward “safe is death” hockey! Or at least they try to lol. You see I think the terminology of a Defensive team or a team that plays Defensively is a very vague statement, and get misconstrued alot. I think when Torts is talking about being a defensive team, he’s not talking about STYLE of hockey or a SYSTEM of hockey. I believe when he’s saying those things he’s referring to other parts of defensive hockey. Like being aware of the loose man rushing in, 3rd man high, Blocking shots head first, covering lanes in the d-zone etc. etc. But…When it comes to team SYSTEM…this team IMO “tries” to be very aggressive offensively. Again and I’m sure many are going to disagree with me on this (like Joe Michheletti lol)and that’s your right and it’s what makes us the most passionate fans in the world!

  5. Matt Josephs says:

    I definitely agree that when the Rangers execute their system they are one of the best team’s in the league. The problem is, how many time’s have we seen them do that this season? Even in some of their wins I would argue the team didn’t play great or even good hockey that night.

    It’s possible the system is too difficult to execute for this team and that’s something that comes down to the coaching. They need to make some adjustments. While the team hasn’t been executing, the coaches still have some blame to take.

    The longer the team continues to struggle the more they might continue to doubt the system (don’t know if they are doubting the system, I’m not in the locker room) and lose faith. At that point Sather and the rest of management will have no choice but to change coaches even if they think the players threw in the towel.

    Here’s an interesting question: Who will be the first to leave if the team struggles continue? Torts, Gaborik, or Richards?

  6. Mikeyyy says:

    The system worked. Last year.

    New personnel, and if you look closely they do play a bit differently. No more blind passes up the wall and dump style.

    If one or two skill players were in a funk, I wouldn’t worry. But this regression back to pre winning stream hockey is concerning.

    It’s concerning that br is not playing better than last year. Remember we gave him a pass last year because it was a new system. He should have it by now. And he needs to stop losing battles in the corner.

    Gabby, that is a tough one. He has been here a while. Is it his fault he doesn’t get any nice setups, or streaking plays for odd man rushes? Is it his fault he s a speedster and not a wall crasher? This one is squarely on torts for not giving him the opportunity to play out of his funk

    Now the rest of the team has been complaining about not getting enough time to gel. That’s a coach issue not a players issue.

    And as Torts throws his players under the bus he really shot himself in the foot. How on earth do you not coach your players on offense? How? You can’t expect them to cover back a certain way or play defense a certain way without impacting the offense. So the reality of the situation is that the things he makes the players do on the defensive and coverage side of the luck have a direct reflection upon the offense.

    With the tools a d players torts has , there is no excuse for failure.

    He got what he asked for, top flight center, top flight scorers. All star defensemen. Vezina trophy winner.

    At what point do we say, you as a coach can not handle this job any longer.

    But don’t ask me. Why don’t you ask the players he has instructed to not talk to the media? How come no one asks them?

    • VinceR says:

      “You look at that first period and after, we stuck with the system and obviously the system works. So if we can all buy in to that and stick with the system, we’re a good team.” -Rick Nash after the win vs Tampa

      I have to disagree with him throwing players under the bus. Also I never saw the memo on the gag order.

      I also believe that Vezina winner you just mentioned called out that they need to play harder in front of both nets. So 1) he agrees and 2) called out his team.

      • The Suit says:

        Haha Gabby misses a breakaway, a penalty shot, and some chances in front of the net and somehow it’s Torts fault. He has two 40 goals seasons playing in Torts system. The hate for JT is just getting laughable at this point.

        • Joe says:

          Your right! His offense has suffered. Gabby has become a much better defensive player under Torts than he ever was, he had to, in order to see ice time. Is there any consideration that this concentration on defense ( becoming a better 2 way player) has affected his offensive play? If so, than logic dictates that some fault lies with Torts for changing the way he plays. For the record I, for one, do not hate Torts, just think his time is done.

        • rickyrants13 says:

          Your support for a man that has clearly lost his team And only is willing to play 2/3ds of them is what is laughable. How the hell can you not see that this mans constant swaping of the lines as well as playing players out of position. And players that have no buisness even being in the lineup IS KILLING THIS TEAM????

          • The Suit says:

            Because my opinion is formed by the fact that I play hockey, work in pro sports, talk to scouts, players and coaches who think the world of him. It also helps I can analyze a team beyond win/loss records. If you don’t like what I write, you know what your options are…

      • Joe says:

        VinceR, you have an argument, however, it loses credibility when you say you haven’t seen the gag order. Really?? You think Torts let’s his players talk? I mean, are we watching the same team? The same coach? I’m befuddled how you can say this.

        • VinceR says:

          Ugh, I’m bad at the internet…originally clicked reply here but wanted to reply to another comment below and clicked there before I submitted so see my reply below.

  7. Rockdog says:

    I wonder how much of this is due to having a bunch of new players and a shortened season. Overall, this team doesn’t look as sharp as last year’s team, which has been a real surprise to me. The good news is that if they can get it together for the playoffs, they could become a really dangerous team. The talent is there.

    • Joe says:


    • VinceR says:

      I think he gags on them injuries, and I think he thinks that is for their own protection (although I don’t agree and don’t see much point behind that since it’s usually pretty obvious what is wrong, although I don’t think it really matters if he discloses so that seems to be a moot point over all) but I don’t get what else exactly he’s gagging them on.

      I don’t asee ny players on any team talking too freely about their team to the press…like calling out their coach ior anything like that, mainly because it’s terribly unprofessional. So if they are holding their tongues it’s not like it’s because of Torts, although I understand they don’t want to be punished, but that’s any player on any team with any coach if they are in disagreement. When they do speak it seems to be in support though.

      I think generally athletes overall don’t talk too freely to the press about their team, because that is locker room culture (outsiders vs insiders). Sure there are guys like Santonio Holmes who call out team members, coaches, etc, but most agree those types of players are a**hats/morons. There is a difference to subtly doing it (Henke) to just bitching publicly and throwing them under the bus (Holmes).

      I could very well be missing the point and I’m all ears as to what you mean.

    • VinceR says:

      Joe my reply to you is above this.

      What I wanted to say here is to Rockdog…I’m exactly where you are on this and in my heart of hearts I think they will just work through this like they had started to before this slump.

      I think they are just continually up against it, some of it due to various issues that have had terrible timing going back to back, and will eventually break through.

  8. Rob says:

    Let’s hope we go on a roll here so the team could shut us all up lol! Man what is it 22 games left? Btw Mikeyyyy are you Mike from Bayside?

  9. Walt says:

    I’ve expressed my opinion very clearly over the last few days, or weeks, time just flies!

    The bottom line is this, we are missing some important pieces, Marc, and the bottom two d-men are marginal at best. The scoring is non existent, we are soft, and everyone is on Tort’s case, including yours truely.

    Suit believes that we will come back, I sure as hell hope so. If the worst case senerio happends, we miss the play-offs, what then? Will they rid the team of Richards, buy out? Will Torts be given his walking papers? I don’t know, but there is a problem right now, and the season is short, we can ill afford to continue to play like this. A fire needs to be placed under some seats, and if they don’t respond, we may have a clearence sale, and be forced to start anew.

    The next few games will dictate what will happen for the play-off run. Either we win, or we’re history. It’s either sh*t, or get off the pot time, no more than that!!!!!

  10. Jamie says:

    Thanks for the clearly-explained breakdown. It seems to me, though, that we are bound to lose a few key board battles over the course of a game …. three goals is not that many against Pittsburgh. What concerns me is the near-total inability to score. Even if Richards made the right play on that third goal we would have lost, thanks to our moribund offense.

  11. Ray says:

    It’s true the Rangers may have given up some goals they should not have, but the big problem seems to be lack of scoring. Some of the defensive lapses may just be frustration.