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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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Callahan out 4-6 weeks

As if the season couldn’t get worse, AV said in his post-game press conference that Ryan Callahan has a 2nd degree MCL injury. Cally will likely be out 4-6 weeks. We’ll keep you posted as we hear more news.

A Need for Grit

Jam.

Jam.

It’s no secret, hockey is a war of attrition. Come playoff time, games are usually settled in dirty areas of the ice by close scores. The Rangers style of play has certainly changed since they last made a run in 2012 where they pretty much embodied my last sentence. This season we’ve begun to learn what we don’t have and that’s grit.

To date we have seen mostly inconsistent play where either we’re putting away 4-5 goals or we’re giving up 4-5 goals. This isn’t a good sign for long-term success. And while I certainly appreciate some of the skilled plays we are seeing, we all know how hard it is to maintain that style consistently over the course of a long season, or a 7 game series. The Rangers need to address this before the deadline because hockey isn’t just a war of attrition, but also a game of matchups.

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Lundqvist signs 7 year extension

Hank is here to stay.

Hank is here to stay.

According to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, Henrik Lundqvist has signed a 7 year extension worth $8.5M per year. This should put any doubts about who the number 1 goalie is to rest, as Hank now becomes the highest paid goalie in the NHL. The raise is a modest $1.75 million from his current contract, so the cap hit, while large, is manageable.

Lundqvist, who turns 32 in March, has a contract that will pay him $1.5 million more than the previously highest paid goalies Pekka Rinne and Tuukka Rask. This is also the largest contract ever given to a goalie, and will likely remain the largest contract ever given to a goalie. Hank had the rare scenario of All-World talent, a team that desperately needs him, and a team with the means necessary to keep him. Plus, no goalie will be topping $8.5 million any time soon.

This season, Lundqvist has posted a 2.51 GAA and a .917 SV%, a far cry from his career numbers of 2.26 GAA and .920 SV%. But those numbers are misleading thanks to two games in California. Hank’s November stats: 2.27 GAA and .924 SV%. Much more in line with his career numbers.

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One size does not fit all when it comes to player development

Courtesy of Blueshirts United

Courtesy of Blueshirts United

There’s an old cliche that lingers around front offices and rinks throughout North America that ‘if you’re good enough, you’ll make it no matter what’. It’s a cliche that lives on because so to do the skeptics and excuses that often attach to certain players who don’t live up to expectations.

All too often fans and media members are quick to point fingers at a coach or a GM when a young player’s output doesn’t immediately reflect their scouting report. However, player development can take time and not everyone goes through the same process to reach their potential.

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Game 27: Torts returns to MSG

John Tortorella

The Canucks come to town for the first of two regular season meetings with the Rangers (the next game is on April Fools’ Day in Van). What is sure to be a media circus today with a lot of distracting questions and baiting for jabs, hopefully the Rangers can see past the odd narrative and just go about their business to get two points.

They play 11 of their next 12 games at MSG so it will be crucial for our boys to use this month to get back to the top of the Eastern Conference, which is where they were expected to be. The Canucks play an aggressive 2-1-2 forecheck and aim to keep the opposition pinned in their own end zone. They haven’t had much puck luck of late, but from a possession standpoint, they’ve been absolutely dominating.

They are currently ranked #1 in the league in Fenwick For (shots and missed shots on goal) and 6th in FF%. NYR is ranked 10th and 13th respectively. This will be another good test for the Blueshirts. In the defensive zone, the Canucks play a low zone collapse and try to defend you in layers depending on puck location. On special teams, they play an umbrella/1-3-1 power play and rotate between a box and diamond penalty kill.

From a formation standpoint, Torts is employing similar schemes with the Canucks that he used with the Rangers. However, the biggest difference between Torts’ Nucks and Torts’ Rangers is what players do when they have the puck. In NY, Torts focused a lot on ‘manufacturing’ offense, with funnel plays, triangles, stretching the zone hi-low, and getting in front of point shots for tips and deflections. In Vancouver, there’s much more creativity and plays aren’t limited to North/South hockey. There’s a better balance of East/West and smash mouth.

Rangers Lineup:

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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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