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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.