Goal Breakdown: Rangers survive Florida’s blitz, win 5-2

The Rangers got away with another one last night after getting dominated in their own end for most of the game, yet they were able to come away with a big win on the road. The Panthers came hard, just as we expected they would, and put 51 shot attempts towards Hank’s direction, while the Rangers countered with 32.

The Rangers faced a similar blitz several nights ago in Dallas and were able to get a win, a positive sign. Yet they also managed to win the ‘puck possession’ battle against LA, Boston, and Tampa, but those games counted for losses. Strange how this thing of ours works out sometimes.

On to the goals:

Rangers 1, Panthers 0

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Game 25: A must win in Florida

Photo: NJ.com

Photo: NJ.com

After Monday night’s humiliating loss in Tampa Bay, the Rangers are in Fort Lauderdale to take on the Florida Panthers. The Rangers beat this team on 11/10 by a score of 4-3, taking advantage of three defensive zone coverage fails by the Panthers (and scoring a powerplay goal).

Since then, Peter Horachek (Flordia’s new coach) has been doing a good job trying to get their ship righted. They’ve beaten the Ducks, Canucks, Avs, and Flyers recently. The Rangers shouldn’t take them for granted. They won’t be an easy out.

Horachek employs more of a north/south game than Dineen and has them running an aggressive 2-1-2 forecheck. In the DZ, they run a low zone collapse and bring all five guys back to protect the house. On special teams, they run an umbrella/1-3-1 power play and a more passive four man box penalty kill. The Panthers tend to collapse vs. challenging the point shot, so our d-men should get some looks tonight.

Rangers Lineup:

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Hockey Systems – Fronting vs. Net-side Positioning

Last season we talked a lot about defensive zone systems (e.g., the low zone collapse, overload, hybrid man-on-man, etc.), and particularly what the Rangers as a team were trying to execute to prevent quality/dangerous shots on net. Today we’re going to zoom in on one specific area within the defensive end, the net zone, since it’s a small part of the system that I’ve notice has been tweaked based on who is between the pipes and on ice matchups.

dzone

To give you a refresher, the net zone (as diagramed above) is the area around the crease, which is generally the responsibility of the second defensemen back (in this case the RD). This player’s job is to protect the slot at all costs. However, within this zone, there’s essentially two different ways to defend the crease and support your goaltender.

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Taking stock of the Rangers at the 20 game mark

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

About midway through October we asked everyone to have some patience after we started the season less than stellar. As I say every year — wait till the 20 game mark before planning a parade, trade, or handing out pink slips. Not every organization follows this advice of course, but most good ones do.

As expected, the Rangers have now made the full transition from playing Tortorella’s 2-1-2 spread forechecking system to AV’s more overload style of play. There’s still a fair amount of similarities between the two coaches though, definitely more than most would care to admit.

The Rangers still collapse in the slot and block a ton of shots, rather than pressuring the points. AV is also not afraid to shorten his bench if guys aren’t going. The zone-start/player deployment strategy (after a whistle) is pretty similar. Both regime’s penalty killing strategies are nearly identical. Though to be fair, most of these philosophies are fairly common in the NHL.

Where things get interesting though is for the players who haven’t yet made the transition. Obviously everyone learns at their own pace, but at some point the org has to start wondering about certain players and their adaptability.

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Rangers should avoid trade market

Andrew Theodorakis/New York Daily News

Andrew Theodorakis/New York Daily News

In case you missed it, this past Friday Larry Brooks reported Michael Del Zotto may be in AV’s dog house, pointing to the fact he only played 2:59 in the third period against Columbus, and could potentially be moved. While I don’t doubt the coaching staff and organization as a whole may be losing their patience with MDZ, a trade still seems miss timed.

At this point, I’m not sure what kind of value MDZ would bring after a benching. While he has improved in his own zone since his rookie year, his offense still leaves much to be desired for a supposed ‘offensive defensemen’. As Brooksie pointed out, MDZ has only scored four power play goals in his last 255 games after scoring three power play goals in his first nine. Not exactly a trend worth boasting about.

When a young player’s production flatlines the way MDZ’s has, you tend to look at the coaching staff and see if perhaps they are misusing a player or not putting them in a position to succeed. However, in MDZ’s case, it’s hard if not impossible to blame those behind the bench.

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Alain Vigneault’s 1-3-1 power play system succeeding

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

It’s no secret, the biggest problem the Rangers have had the last several seasons is the lack of a respectable power play. Not since the 2009-10 season have the Blueshirts finished in the top half of the league in PP conversions, and not since the 1998-99 season have the Rangers had a top 5 power play. Although it’s still a bit early to call our current power play elite, or even a team strength, you have to like what assistant coach Scott Arniel has done with the man advantage in the early goings.

To date, the Rangers have converted on 20% of their power plays, good for 13th in the league. The boys are doing all the right things on the advantage like player movement, puck movement, setting screens, and getting pucks on net from all areas of the ice. If they can keep it up, I can see this power play being really good for the first time in a very long time.

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Rangers return home with much to prove

Home. Finally.

Home. Finally.

The month was October. The year was 2011. The Rangers kicked off the season 3-6, and every day on this blog many begged for the return of Sean Avery and the firing of John Tortorella. Dave, Chris, and I turned the page on Avery and preached patience with Torts and his systems. The Rangers then went on a 12-2 surge and eventually the Eastern Conference finals, their first appearance beyond round 2 since 1997. Avery finished the season working in advertising.

Fast forward two years later and the Rangers are standing on the edge of October with a 3-6 record. Though Avery is long gone, and his name only pops up when photos of him with Housewives star Andy Cohen circulate the internet, the complaints from this fan base are essentially the same. Too many fingers are being pointed at AV this early in the process. For us, the message remains the same as it did in 2011. Be patient.

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The time is now for Chris Kreider

Kreider would be best served with big minutes in the AHL

Kreider

Chris Kreider returns to the Rangers at a very interesting time. Our new “offensive system” has generated 1.57 goals per game. Three of our top players are injured. And when Taylor “Life Of” Pyatt is 2nd among forwards in ice time, as he was last night, you can understand some of the negative sentiment percolating this fan base. Although it’s only been 7 games, something has to give.

Enter Kreider, who scored 5 goals and 7 points in 18 games upon joining the league during the 2012 playoffs, but has since scored 5 points in 31 regular season games while being shuffled back and forth between the AHL and the Show. And while it’s certainly debatable Rangers brass has mismanaged the kid a little bit, that can certainly become the prologue in this story if he finally sticks in the top 6 of this lineup.

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Should the NHL look to eliminate fighting?

Photo: Alex Brandon, AP

Photo: Alex Brandon, AP

If you had asked me only a few years ago whether or not I thought the NHL should eliminate fighting, I would have emphatically told you no. My defense at the time was that a) it is part of the culture of the game and has been for decades b) a good fight can cause a momentum shift c) it’s entertaining.

But as the years have gone by and the game has evolved, my point of view has evolved with it. Rather than look back at fighting’s importance in the past or even its acceptance — albeit curbed — in today’s game, the brightest minds in hockey should always be looking forward.

Make no mistake, whether you think fighting in hockey should be eliminated, watered down, or even championed, the league is chipping away at its importance. The instigator penalty, the determination to eliminate staged fights, and now the crackdown on helmet removals is evidence of the league’s evolved thinking.

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The Rangers will hopefully only get better from here

Bill Boyce/AP

Bill Boyce/AP

Five games are hardly enough of a sample size to evaluate much of anything — not the players, not the coaches, and not the system. With that said, I think we’ve seen enough by now to not have our heads in the sand with where this team is at physically and mentally. While I expected the Rangers to have some growing pains in the early goings, I never expected them to be this bad. Still, call me an optimist, but I think the Rangers are only going to get better from here.

As I said in last week’s post about AV’s system, it’s going to take time to make the transition from Tortorella’s system to what we’re trying to play now. A lot of the coverage fails we’re seeing are simply because the players are thinking about their decisions before they actually make them. When you have to take time to think about who you should be covering, when you should be pursuing vs. containing, or whether you should be passing, carrying, vs. dumping the puck, you’re opening yourself up to mistakes.

At the NHL level you don’t have time to think. The way you play has to be instinctual. Although the difference between a quick decision and a rushed decision may be small, the consequences of those decisions can be monumental.

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