Small system change all the difference for Alain Vigneault’s Rangers

November 14, 2016, by

alain vigneault

The Rangers have been a marvel to watch this season. After a significant upgrade at forward, the Rangers are steamrolling opponents to a top-three in the league 57% scoring-chances-for (SCF%) rating. The league leading 62 (as of this writing) goals scored are also pretty nice as well. But perhaps the biggest difference is the defensive zone play.

Last year, the Rangers hemorrhaged shots from all over the defensive zone, putting up some of the worst Corsi (quantity) and Scoring-Chance (quality) numbers against we’ve seen in a while. It was a two-part problem. The first was personnel, which was going to be almost impossible to fix. The second part was system based, which required an adjustment by Alain Vigneault, something many thought to be impossible based on the comments across the blog and Twitter.

Fast forward to today, and we have a slightly tweaked system that has enabled the Rangers to get the most out of the roster. It’s well known that the Rangers play a hybrid overload/man coverage in the defensive zone. Last year, the defense played man and chased all around the zone, including up to the blue line. This year, the defense only chases their man to the faceoff dots before releasing.

It’s a small change, but it has made all the world of difference. The defense, to which skating is not a strength, can now focus on the slot area and stick their man in the high priced real estate. The forwards, overloading along the boards to outnumber the opposition, focuses on the outside areas and forces turnovers. In this small adjustment, the Rangers are able to continue to put pressure on the opposition while still limiting high quality chances against.

Here’s just a taste of what we saw last year:

On this goal against Carolina last year, Jeff Skinner was left alone in the slot. It’s a little tough to see from this angle, but you can see that the forwards were out of position and both Rangers defensemen went to the same man.

Here is another miscommunication against the Penguins. Marc Staal had his man, and Dan Boyle went to go block a shot from outside the dots. No one picked up Matt Cullen in the slot.

These are just two examples of goals where a lack of communication led directly to goals. The right guys in the slot weren’t picked up, and it led to very easy tap-ins for the opposition.

Now we have this year, and instead of rehashing what I said above, I defer to Jack Han:

The first 30 seconds covers defensive zone play, where Jack highlights that the Rangers have put more of the onus on the forwards to carry the defensive load. AV made things simpler for the Rangers defensemen while playing to their strength of fast and skilled forwards. It’s a small adjustment, but it’s paid huge dividends thus far.

As Jack stated, we don’t know if this is sustainable at the moment, but right now the Rangers are flying, playing to their strengths, and hiding their weaknesses. These are all positive things that make the Rangers a scary team to play against.

"Small system change all the difference for Alain Vigneault's Rangers", 5 out of 5 based on 21 ratings.
Categories : Hockey Tactics


  1. Ranger11 says:

    While I’m not a big fan of sitting back on a lead the Rangers did a pretty good job of keeping Edmonton to the outside and not giving them many good scoring chances in the 3rd period. It looked like they slowed the game down that period on purpose since they played the night before and only had 11 forwards too.

  2. JoeS. says:

    Nice job, Dave!

  3. Bobby B says:

    Nice picture of AV yelling, and Mcllrath in ear shot. ( how ironic) . Looks real good that Dylan will be getting a legit shot with the NHL FLORIDA PANTHERS. He was scratched the other night vs the fish sticks, but by all accounts management likes his stay at home aggressive style, and he will stay with the big club, watch him and Yandle develop into a great tandem!!.

    • joe719 says:

      What the hell do these comments have to do with last night? Look, McD is gone. Just like the election, its over!! Move on already! We’ve got, so far, an exciting team to watch. YOU– can watch him and Yandle grow into a “great tandem”( yeah, right!). I’ll stay with the uniform that I’ve been supporting since 1965! Its time to cut the cord already, on the ‘legend that never was.’

    • pas44 says:

      You gotta relax, this post is so far from your comments…


      Get a Sign for #8 and head for Trump tower… plenty of signs that make no sense anymore out there…

      🙂 AV isn’t even looking at DM in this photo…

      Pass the Dutchie…

      “Cut the cord” = CLASSIC

  4. DAVID k says:

    Protecting the front of the net. That is the difference from last season nothing between the dots.

  5. SalMerc says:

    Dave is right. Now and forever.

  6. Snake says:

    Great post. Thanks for illustrating the system change. Very helpful to understanding what is going on.

  7. Hatrick Swayze says:

    Thanks Dave. Subtle things like this are not easy for causal fans to pick up. I’ve played the game my entire life and will readily admit that if not for commentary like this, I’d not realize the year over year adjustment easily. The GIFs certainly help to illustrate the story.

    Way to find time to cover the entire gambit of all things Rangers.

  8. Dave says:

    Appreciate the kind words.

    Be sure to follow Jack on Twitter, he does this in much greater detail for all 30 NHL clubs.

  9. paulronty says:

    Kudos to the Original Rob & others who time & time again stated that the problem was not just the D, but the forwards, who were leaving the zone too quickly, not providing puck support in the D-zone & standing at the centre ice line covered, while the D played catch with the puck in the D-zone because there was no one to pass it to. So how come this adjustment was not made last year, but has been made this year? Could it be the smarts of the new D coach?

    • Dave says:

      This is an adjustment made to hide the fact that the defense is still pretty bad at handling the puck, so AV/Beuk adjusted to limit what they need to do.

      It was never just the defense or the forwards. It was always both, plus the need to adjust. I don’t think anyone ever really argued that it was solely one of the three.

      • paulronty says:

        Sorry but last year it was consistently the defence that was vilified on this blog, often unjustly. The function of the D has always been to make sure the front of the net & slot are covered, which wasn’t happening because they were skating around like wild turkeys. The D seems to be fine, to date, in handling the puck, because they have zone support and can make quick passes to the forwards. Elliotte Friedman made an excellent point, that it’s not just how fast the Rangers skate, it’s how fast they move the puck. That’s why Subban was traded because he was overhandling the puck and holding up the forwards. I would argue that the most important function of a defenceman is winning the puck battles along the boards with a strong stick. If you can’t do that, you won’t be able to move the puck fast.

        • 'The Original Rob' says:

          God I wish they had a chalk board in this browser :-). Come on Dave, you’re slacking! 😉

          No seriously though, I honestly don’t know why they didn’t adjust last year, but what’s puzzling is, this was one of the strongest areas of AV’s coaching when he first took over in year 1.

          If you remember, our outlets were super quick, meticolous, and efficient coming out of the zone that year when we went to the cup. It was the very first thing I noticed different about AV’s Rangers.

          Maybe, it stood out more then, because it was in stark contrast to how Torts had guys moving it up out of our end, just the year prior?

    • 'The Original Rob' says:


      Thank you for the kind words m8!

      Much of the credit goes to you as well for pointing that out to us as well my friend.

      What I’m concerned about is, how are we going to be able to succeed in the playoffs with this style?
      Meaning, I find that the north-south game is hard to play when it comes to the big tourny. Those outlets and support on break outs gets very hard to do once play-off time comes around.

      However, I do like our perimeter game as well, so that’s promising, and hopefully we can continue to get better at.

      I’m sure we can all agree that this D, as good as they look, are still suspectible and I am eager to see how they handle some continued press and handle adversity when on their heels.

      Time will tell.

      • Chris A says:

        Pitt just won a Cup playing this style, and their lineup was less talented, top to bottom, than the Rangers.

        I’m not worried, speed kills, and the Rangers have plenty of it. And if the opposition wants to press the Rangers D? Then their goalie better be ready for an endless barrage of odd man rushes.

        • 'The Original Rob' says:


          Good points! You got me happily stumped on that!

          It’s amazing, not only on how much the game has changed just in the past 10 years or so, but how it’s still continuing to evolve right before our very eyes.

          Also, gotta give credit when due. Several BSB’ers also pointed this out, and Chris A was pounding the table all season long, regarding the Forwards needing to help the D as well.

        • Leetchie Nut says:

          Less talented? Who on our team is more talented than Cry Baby or Geno? Or even Letang last spring for that matter. If you want to argue our bottom 6 is better than their bottom 6 was, fine. I’ll give you that. But as an overall lineup? We’ve still got a ways to go.

          And while I am duly impressed with our incredible speed game, one glaring deficiency is if a solid team plays any sort of trap game agst us – in April, not in November – we have no answer to that, i.e. very little physicality or ability to play any sort of grinding game even temporarily. The playoffs are not all about the Ice Capades, idc how up tempo the league has gotten. PIT had tough, fast role players, in addition to 2 true elite centers.

      • paulronty says:

        The playoffs as you imply are a completely different animal as the checking is so much tighter & board play & puck support become much more critical. Our D needs lots of help from the forwards because they can be muscled off the puck for the most part, so puck support will be THE key to success in the playoffs. So far so good.

        • 'The Original Rob' says:

          Puck support in the D zone on exits is so very understated on it’s importance in todays game.

          I cannot agree more!!

  10. bernmeister says: