Rangers vs. Habs: Systems preview

April 10, 2017, by

alain vigneault

The Rangers and Habs have been destined to meet in the first round since before Claude Julien was hired by the Canadiens. But with the Julien hire, the Habs changed the way they play. They have been much more focused on team defense, which is something Julien is known for.

The Habs do not have a ton of depth, and rely on that team defense and Carey Price to carry them. Don’t misunderstand that though. The Habs have a good amount of skill in the top-half of their lineup and are capable of making you pay for your mistakes. Beating Claude Julien is no easy task.


Even strength play for the Rangers revolves around creating high chance opportunities off the rush with a steady forecheck and set breakouts. Last year this was an issue, as team speed wasn’t on par with the style of play they wanted. However this year is different. The reloaded forwards are capable of springing a rush off a turnover very quickly. Couple that with improved skill and finishing ability, and the Rangers have one of the more potent offenses in the league.

The forecheck is an area where the Rangers need to commit. They are still an effective forechecking team, but are also prone to lapses. The first man in will pressure the puck, and depending on puck location/play, the second will pressure the primary passing option, while the third will pressure the secondary passing option. This is generally an effective 1-2-2 forecheck.

On the other side of the ice, Julien’s Habs play a more aggressive forecheck, sending two men in on a 2-1-2 to cause turnovers deep. This is especially effective against the Rangers’ blue liners, who have trouble with the small breakout passes. If the Habs are able to get in on anyone not named McDonagh or Skjei, there could be problems.

Forechecking is going to be a major focal point in this series. The team that is more effective in causing turnovers to both stymie the opposition and create their own chances has a huge advantage.

Defensive Zone


The Rangers’ defensive zone scheme is well known at this point. Or at least people think they know it. Folks will tell you that the Rangers play straight man coverage. But this is in fact, incorrect. The Rangers play an overload/man hybrid system, designed to overload the half-boards and create turnovers. Depending on puck location, certain players will switch to man coverage, specifically D1 and D2, to create more pressure. This is why you sometimes see defensemen pressuring a forward to the top of the circle.

Last year, the Rangers had major issues with defensemen chasing all the way to the blue line. This year is much better, as they are releasing at the top of the circle. This has led to fewer blown coverages and a more efficient defense. The Rangers are far from perfect, but they made progress in correcting that issue.

Zone Coverage

The Habs are a much simpler team, running a standard overload and zone system. The zone will look like an overload, and naturally the look will change depending on puck location. They will likely shift to a box+1 if the puck is behind the net. The key for the Habs is they are executing a lot better now than they were in the past. This has led to fewer stick penalties. Positioning is everything.

The Rangers can disrupt their defensive zone scheme with their speed and depth. The Rangers have a superb bottom-six that should be a matchup nightmare for the top-heavy Habs.

Special Teams

1-3-1 Powerplay

The Rangers actually have a pretty decent powerplay this year. They are sitting at 20% conversion, good for 11th in the league. They will be running a 1-3-1 or umbrella (more or less a 3-2) powerplay, depending on the unit and how the play is developing. This will run through Ryan McDonagh and Brady Skjei.

Powerplays in the NHL aren’t creative anymore since the advent of the 1-3-1. Julien runs the same hybrid approach as AV. There’s not much else here.

Diamond force

As for the penalty kill, well the Rangers stink. They were fine in the beginning of the year, as the revamped forwards pressured the blue line and forced turnovers for shorthanded chances. Added to that was more commitment by the defense to stop the Royal Road pass that killed them last season.

The Rangers play an overload/diamond force, which is used to pressure the puck carrier and take away passing lanes. Players like Michael Grabner are able to counter attack for chances off turnovers that this style creates. But this does put a lot of pressure on the penalty kill keep heads on a swivel and not miss assignments and/or players creeping from the point.

A unique aspect of the penalty kill for the Blueshirts is that they do not designate one player to clear the front of the net. When Henrik Lundqvist is in net, they “front”, which means playing in front of the forward in an attempt to block shooting and passing lanes. This goes well with an overload/diamond force, as it forces more turnovers. But as you can expect, it comes with the drawback of leaving guys in front for rebounds and deflections.

Interestingly enough, Julien uses a diamond force PK as well. However to my knowledge, the Habs don’t front for Price, they play a net-front presence. This puts a guy on the guy in front, which has the benefit of preventing deflections and rebound attempts. However it opens up passing lanes to the high slot.

These are two very good tactical coaches. The only major difference in these two teams is the forechecking style, and even that isn’t much of a difference. Both teams are going to need to execute. Execution and in-game coaching adjustments are critical for both teams, and will swing the series.

Coaching advantage: Habs

"Rangers vs. Habs: Systems preview", 5 out of 5 based on 8 ratings.
Categories : Playoffs


  1. amy says:

    this will be a test for the boys let’s win one in Montreal and start from there

  2. Chris F says:

    “On the other side of the ice, Julien’s Habs play a more aggressive forecheck, sending two men in on a 2-1-2 to cause turnovers deep. This is especially effective against the Rangers’ blue liners, who have trouble with the small breakout passes. If the Habs are able to get in on anyone not named McDonagh or Skjei, there could be problems.”

    On the flip side, Montréal’s aggressive forecheck leaves fewer players back to stifle the Rangers rush. When we do get those chip passes out and past the two forecheckers, it’ll open up lots of odd man rushes for the Rangers.

  3. Spozo says:

    Buch vs Glass has already been discussed. So who does everyone think sits on defense? I think it comes down to Smith, Klein, and Holden. I thought Klein was playing fairly well when he came back from injury but the last few games have changed my mind. I would sit Klein!

    • Hatrick Swayze says:

      Here’s what it will be:

      McD – Girardi
      Skjei – Smith
      Staal – Holden


      If we were to optimize, consensus seems to be Smith can better handle Girardi’s top pair minutes and Clendenning should slide right into Smith’s spot on the second pair with Skjei. I’m not sure what to make of the Girardi/Staal/Holden/Klein mosh of a 3rd pair other than Klein is the easy out of that group- I agree with you there.

      • Spozo says:

        I’m good with those pairs!

      • John B says:

        I think the answer is as clear as day.

        Girardi is not sitting.
        Holden/Staal have been one of the worst pairings in 2017.
        Klein has been barely serviceable
        = Brandan Smith will sit.

  4. Peter LaMonte says:

    The Rangers defense has looked tired and out of place for some time now. When pressured their ability to seek an open ice pass is severely limited. This will cause McD, Brady or Brendan to start the rush. If successful those could be a benefit. If not …. Execution is key and the Habs have been excelling since Julian took over. Also Price seems to have the Rangers # and Henrik seems to be almost fearful of the Canadians. If every Ranger plays to the utmost top of their ability they have a slim chance. If not…If Henrik can channel his inner Sergio Garcia new found mental toughness they have a chance. Again if not…Canadians in 6

  5. Peter says:

    Sounding like an endless loop, I repeat: the forechecking and backchecking by the Rangers’ forwards, and whether they put the puck in the net past Cary Price, will be what drives whether they beat the Habs. Can they make up for the weaknesses of their blue liners? That will tell the tale.

  6. Rich S says:

    Game 1 is the most winnable on the road…..
    Lets play our game-uptempo, speed, end to end rushes……not their game-slow, forechecking, defense first…….
    That being said, I would dress our 6 best passing defensemen in order to accentuate our strength—-constant attack……look to push puck up ice with long passes….
    I doubt AV would do it but I would play clendening instead of girardi since girardi foes not pass as well nor handle the forcheck as well….
    McD – clendening
    Skjei – Smith
    Staal – Holden….
    Rangers in 5

    • Peter says:

      Rich, because Clendo can be an adventure in their own zone at times he will not get into the lineup over Girardi despite his ability to move the puck. No way, no how. AV just does not trust him.

  7. Ranger17 says:

    Unless 2 D men go down Glendening has played his last game in a Ranger Jersey

  8. Ranger17 says:

    Whats up with Fast , is he in for the first game . If he is not hurting he should have played yesterday

  9. Bobby B says:

    Watch the wave after wave of Canadian players dumping everything on Girardi’s side, just like the Kings did in the 2014 Cup Finals. McDonagh will be burnt toast after game 2, just trying to cover up for him. Girardi was on his last legs in 2014, the Kings exposed him BIG TIME, does one think 3 years later he will be better?? Well, I guess AV thinks so, that is all that really matters. Lets go Rangers.