Over the past few days, Dave Maloney’s quotes on Hockey Night Live have made the rounds around the interwebs. Maloney stated that in the view of upper management, the Rangers were “unwatchable” by upper management because they never had the puck. They were blocking shots and limiting their offensive players, which led to a lot of time in the defensive zone.
This was the reason why John Tortorella was fired. There are other quotes about players taking a lot of abuse, but in hockey it’s about results. Management wasn’t happy about the on-ice product, so they let Torts go.
The interesting thing here is that over the course of last season, the Rangers were one of the better puck possession teams in hockey. During the regular season, the Rangers were 9th in the league in CF% (52.0%), and 6th in the league in FF% (53.5%).
Things took a big turn for the worse in the playoffs though. Despite the general success in the regular season at maintaining puck possession, the Rangers were absolutely dominated by the Caps (Caps had a +94 shot attempt differential in 7 games) and Bruins (Bruins had a +51 shot attempt differential in 5 games). This was a club that was lucky to sneak by the Caps, and then got thoroughly thrashed by the much better Bruins club.
The biggest factor in this quick turn of events was the defensive zone style of play for the Rangers. Throughout last season, the Rangers were a hybrid overload/low zone collapse team. However in the playoffs, the Rangers were much more conservative, relying almost entirely on the low zone collapse, which caused the extreme shot attempt differential noted above.
This is where AV’s new style of coaching should have an impact. Suit will get into more details about AV’s systems as the season progresses, but one of the things we have seen in the preseason is less of an emphasis on collapsing and shot blocking in the defensive zone, and more of an emphasis on pressure and causing turnovers. This will lead to less time blocking shots in their own end.
That said, less time blocking shots doesn’t necessarily mean the Rangers will be winning the puck possession battle. We’ve noted a few times that AV uses a 1-2-2 forecheck (as opposed to Torts’ more aggressive 2-1-2). Both systems are fine, and both can be used to control puck possession. The leaders in CF% and FF% varied in their forechecking systems. If the Rangers continue to generate shot attempts at the same rate as last year, the improved defensive zone pressure should steadily sway the puck possession scale more to the Rangers favor.
Of course, that last sentence has a very big “if” and an even bigger “should.”