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Four breakout plays every hockey fan should know

The image that keeps on giving

The jpg that keeps on giving

Over the past several years, we’ve talked a lot about hockey system basics like forecheckingdefensive zone systems, and power plays, as well as different philosophies like ice-time distribution, line juggling, and the countless ways to tactically differentiate Alain Vigneault and John Tortorella. Believe it or not, there’s still a lot more to cover.

We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on things such as entries (o-zone and d-zone), breakouts, regroups, counters, backchecking systems, face-off plays, etc. In other words, I hope you all still have a healthy appetite for this stuff.

Thanks to a request from loyal Blue Seat Blogs follower Tommy Tabasco (@ttabasco13), today we’re going to focus on breakouts. This was a good pick from Tommy since breakouts are such a crucial first step to generating offense. 

When it comes to even-strength breakouts, there are essentially two different types: control breakouts and pressure breakouts.

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An interesting trade partner emerges in Colorado

A match made in Denver?

A match made in Denver?

For the past month or so, there have been many reports that the Rangers have been scouting the Colorado Avalanche. We don’t play them for another month, so I think it’s safe to assume the Rangers aren’t pre-scouting and may be exploring trade opportunities.

If the latter is true and the Rangers are taking a hard look at Colorado’s roster, then it certainly begs the question — is there a fit? Looking over Colorado’s roster and contract situations, they’re flush at center, short on wings, and somewhere in the middle on defense.

We’re pretty set at wing. Neither Step, Richie, nor Brass are true #1 centers. A right-handed defender remains our biggest need overall. So there are a few trade possibilities worth exploring. 

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Trade bait

Package deal?

Package deal?

It’s no secret Glen Sather has been shopping Michael Del Zotto for weeks. Unfortunately, the names attached to the trade rumors (e.g, Gardiner, Franson, Wiercioch, etc.) aren’t really anything to get excited about.

It seems MDZ’s trade value has plummeted this season and all we could apparently get in return are bottom-pairing d-men who are also in and out of their respective lineups. I mean you know things are bad when GM’s are hanging up on you over names like Marc Methot and Raphael Diaz.

With the Olympic roster freeze just over a month away and the trade deadline about a month thereafter, Sather still has time. However, the likelihood of MDZ turning his game around to the point where his value could fetch an elite player or prospect remains a pipe dream. If Sather really wants to upgrade this team significantly, players are likely going to have to be packaged together, which brings us to the point of today’s post.

Who on this team is good enough to have value on the trade market, but isn’t considered an untouchable or a critical piece to our championship aspirations?

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Rangers mid-season grades: Glen Sather

The good ol' days

The good ol’ days

For those of you who missed it, we kicked off our annual mid-season grades this week with a review of Alain Vigneault, and have since followed that up with player grades for our defense, bottom six forwards, etc. Today, we’re going to grade the man who oversees it all — Glen Sather.

For the purpose of this post, we’ll need to look back at 2013 in its entirety because we’re experiencing the ripple effects of Sather’s earlier decisions now. And of course, there’s nothing to grade him on from October through December, or what we’d normally evaluate for ‘mid-season’ grades.

If you look back at 2013, there’s essentially four major decisions that standout which have had a cause and effect on our current place in the standings.

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Rangers mid-season grades: Coaching

Needs improvement

Needs improvement

Quick note: Last night’s goal breakdown will be posted this afternoon.

Back by popular demand, we’ve decided to resurrect our hotly contested player, coaching, and management report cards. For those of you new to the blog, the staff and I hand out ‘performance grades’ around the mid-way point of the regular season and just after the commencement of the playoffs. As always, these grades aren’t just based on stats, but also the execution of each personnel or player’s respective role within the organization.

Before I get started with AV’s grade, I just wanted to reiterate that we try to be thorough with these posts. Although most of us have played hockey at some level, we know we’re not experts. If we were, we’d be working in hockey ops. With that said, we feel we know the game better than others who cover it, so we hope you enjoy this series.

So that’s my preamble, let’s move along.

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Fixing neutral zone play will be key in Rangers resurgence

Neutral Zone

Modern Hockey Neutral Zone

Forget what you think you know about hockey zones. The game continues to evolve at a rapid pace and one of the areas that have changed drastically over the last several years is the neutral zone. Traditionally, the neutral zone has been referred to as the area of ice between both bluelines. However, with the evolution of today’s game, most coaches believe the ‘neutral zone’ is now the area between the defensive blueline and just above the offensive face-off circles.

The area you see highlighted in yellow is the most dangerous part of this modernized neutral zone and it is in this area where many coaches have designed more sophisticated ways of defending o-zone entries. The expectation in today’s game is that all forwards, regardless whether they’re 1st or 4th liners, need to backcheck hard and try to force turnovers. The old saying, ‘good defense leads to offense,’ increasingly rings true in this part of the ice.

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Game 37: Parise Returns

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Zach Parise returns to the Garden tonight, but will be sporting Minnesota green instead of Jersey red. The Minnesota native, along with Mikko Koivu leads the Wild in scoring (27 points), and will be looking to rebound after a 5-2 loss in Pittsburgh last Thursday.

Under Mike Yeo, the Wild run a 1-2-2 forecheck which they use aggressively or conservatively depending on game situation. In the defensive zone they use a low zone collapse pretty much exclusively. The Wild prefer to attack the blueline with speed so the Rangers are going to have to be good defending the rush tonight and not leaving Talbot on an island. On special teams, the Wild run an umbrella power play and a diamond force penalty kill.

Tonight marks the second to last game of this 9 game homestand before playing 6 of their next 7 on the road. Time to finish strong.

Rangers Lineup (unconfirmed):

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Game 35: Penguins vs. Rangers

Wah

Wah

After an ugly win against Calgary, where the Rangers made some baby steps in the right direction, the Metropolitan Division leading Pittsburgh Penguins are in town. The Pens are beaten up, with half of their defense (Orpik, Martin, Scuderi) and two key scorers (Malkin, Neal) either injured or suspended. If you’re going to catch Pittsburgh at any point, now is the time to catch them.

Dan Bylsma has the Penguins running an aggressive 2-1-2 forecheck in the offensive zone and encourages puck pursuit in most situations.  In the DZ, Pittsburgh uses a low zone collapse, taking out shooting lanes and protecting the slot. The Pens are ranked 4th in the league in blocked shots and still average over 3 goals a game. On special teams, they run a 1-3-1/umbrella power play which is ranked first in the league, clicking at an incredible 26% rate. They employ a diamond force penalty kill, which they also execute real well as they are 2nd in the NHL just behind Vancouver.

Rangers Lineup (unconfirmed):

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Monday Mailbag: Trade Winds, AV, Signs of a Turnaround?

You got questions. The Suit has answers.

You got questions. The Suit has answers.

No goal breakdown today folks. Unfortunately Dave is traveling and I only caught the second half of the game. Apologies for that.

Anyway, I originally had an x’s and o’s post scheduled for this morning, but I decided to call an audible since the team really hasn’t been playing well of late. I feel like during such a critical part of the season everyone would rather talk about the team than strategy, so I thought a mailbag/twitter bag would be more appropriate.

Before we get started, a big stick tap to those who sent questions in. Much obliged.

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Game 34: Flames make a rare trip to MSG

On the block?

On the block?

Tonight the Calgary Flames (13-15-4) make a rare trip to MSG. The two teams haven’t played against each other since October 2011 and haven’t squared off at MSG in 3+ years.  There isn’t much history between these two teams, so tonight’s game could be a dud. Hopefully it won’t be, as both teams are sub .500 and searching for some sort of identity.

Bob Hartley has the Flames running a 1-2-2 forecheck that can be used aggressively or conservatively depending on the game situation (time left in period, score, puck location, etc.).  In the DZ, Calgary uses a low zone collapse, taking out shooting lanes and keeping things in tight. On special teams, they run a 1-3-1 and a diamond penalty kill.

On a separate note, I’m going to be doing a Q&A/mail bag post tomorrow. Drop me some questions in the comments section or shoot me an email.

Rangers Lineup (unconfirmed):

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