There is no denying it, the Rangers are a difficult team to watch right now. While the defensive ineptitude has been mitigated for the most part as players learn their new roles in AV’s system, the offense has continued to be putrid. We can point to various injuries plaguing the top-6, the inexperience of the kids we expect to step in and soften the blow of those injuries, or the glut of semi-useful bottom-6 guys that are having expectations ramped up to levels that their abilities can’t back up.
We talk about depth quite a bit around here. It seems that since the season started, and more importantly, the losing started, the definition seems to have gotten lost. When we refer to depth, we talk about the ability to either 1) plug holes in the lineup in the case of injury, or 2) have multiple players that can play different roles in different situations, allowing the rest of the personnel to be deployed optimally. No team can absorb the type of high-end losses the Rangers have and expect the depth to cover. Imagine if Boston lost Lucic, Marchand and Bergeron all at once? While maybe not fatal, it would be an uncomfortable time in Beantown.
As New Yorkers, we feel a comfortable attachment to knee-jerk reactions and placing immediate blame for circumstances that disappoint us. We have countless sports radio talking heads, muck-raking beat writers and multiple boroughs full of people who like to shoot their mouth off around the water-cooler about their favorite teams. They conveniently disregard things such as sample-sizes, available resources, advanced statistics and other useful analytical tools to appropriately determine what has gone wrong in a given situation. It’s much easier to assign blame to an overly-simplistic and often erroneous source, or to simply play armchair GM.
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Greg Fiume/Getty Images
As we all know by now, the Rangers have gotten off to a slow start this season. One of the more surprising factors in Blueshirt’s early malaise was the rather pedestrian play of all-world goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. It wasn’t necessarily that he was playing outright badly, just far below the lofty expectations that the fan base has for #30. After posting his first shutout of the year in Washington on Wednesday night, the fan base was able to relax a bit about the form of our number-one keeper.
Buried in a quality post-game piece by Pat Leonard of the Daily News, Hank was quoted as making a small but significant adjustment to his game for the tilt in Washington: he took an extra step out from the goal line for positioning purposes. Hank was quoted on the subject as follows:
“It was more on face-offs I took a step out. My positioning on the ‘D’ shots was a little bit better. A couple times in the early games I got caught deep in my net. That’s the way I play, but there’s been a lot of deflections, (so) you want to come out a little bit more, and today it worked for me.”
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(Bill Boyce, AP)
No doubt about it, the Rangers have been incredibly underwhelming to start the season. They were outplayed in Phoenix, dismantled by Anaheim and San Jose, and bested by St. Louis (although they played well in that game). If not for strong showings in Los Angeles last week and Washington last night, we would be talking about the winless Rangers, not the 2-4 Rangers. The blame doesn’t sit squarely on one player, as almost everyone has been under performing.
In fact, it is easier to name those that are playing well. Brad Richards is playing well. Brian Boyle is playing well, although he gets a lot of unnecessary hate because of the name on the back of his jersey. Anton Stralman hasn’t been bad, although he’s facing awful competition so far. Ryan Callahan has been his usual self. Yup, that’s about it.
So what’s the problem?
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Your ice time leader through three games.
One of the major issues many had with John Tortorella was his refusal (inability?) to run four lines and three defensive pairings consistently. It’s tough to fault him, as he didn’t necessarily have the required depth to trust his bottom-tier players. After all, when your fourth line has Kris Newbury and your bottom pairing has Stu Bickel or Roman Hamrlik, it’s tough to gain trust in those bottom players.
The Rangers this year are deeper, but there is also a much larger reliance by Alain Vigneault on the fourth line and bottom pairing. It does not appear that this club will have guys on the bench for all but five minutes per game. Looking at the TOI/60 through the first three games of the season, the only players in single digits are J.T. Miller (8.7 TOI/60) and Jesper Fast (9.7 TOI/60). Miller is in the AHL, and Fast is only with the team due to the extended road trip. Suffice it to say: AV is not over relying on his top guys.
Yes, I’m aware that the TOI/60 decimal places are out of ten, but you get the point.
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(Source: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)
Yesterday we looked into why the organization decided to keep Jesper Fast over J.T. Miller, focusing on zone starts and puck possession in the first game of the year. Naturally the conversation shifted to why Taylor Pyatt and Brian Boyle were kept, since these are the two whipping boys among the forwards this year. So, let’s address that.
First and foremost, before we even get into #fancystats, hockey is a game played in all three zones. A well-built team has depth players that can play in the defensive zone and shutdown the opposition’s offense. That is why this club needs a guy like Boyle. He will be AV’s Manny Malholtra, getting the majority of his zone starts in the defensive zone. That was evident on Thursday, as Boyle didn’t start a single shift in the offensive zone.
As for Pyatt, many are quick to write him off as a failure because of last year’s struggles. There is some credence to this argument, since Pyatt was slow and unable to really make a difference in an aggressive John Tortorella system. However as Suit pointed out this morning, AV is more of an overload/passing coach, relying less on the blue-collar skating and more on creativity. Pyatt was effective in Vancouver (under AV) and in Phoenix (under Dave Tippett, who has a similar coaching style to AV).
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(Andrew Theodorakis/New York Daily News)
This is definitely going to be an interesting season covering NYR’s x’s and o’s, as coaching changes always bring about new looks and different styles of play. And while I was indeed a pro-Torts guy, I’m looking forward to seeing what AV and his staff have up their sleeves.
Today we’re just going to cover even strength play, since I know these tactic posts can get a little lengthy and I always prefer brevity over anything robust. Next week I’ll focus on the power play and the kill.
With that said, make no mistake. Although AV isn’t completely overhauling the way they play, there are some key differences. It’s going to take a while for everything to come together, so…hold fast.
Offensive Zone Strategy
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Photo credit: Mike Stobe
The Ranger world was a tad shocked yesterday when the Rangers announced they were sending J.T. Miller to the AHL’s Hartford Wolfpack. Many, myself included, thought that Jesper Fast would be returned to Hartford. One of the main reasons why Miller was sent to Hartford was to get him some solid ice time. Miller needs powerplay and penalty kill minutes, and he will not be able to get that in New York. He will get top-six minutes and prime special teams. However based on the first game’s stats, there are other reasons to support this move.
Based on the stats from Extra Skater, which is a great resource if you haven’t used them yet, Fast was actually the vastly superior player in the game against Phoenix on Thursday. It is something that should be taken with a grain of salt because we are victims of small sample size, but Fast had much better puck possession stats and zone starts. Fast started the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone, with zero offensive zone starts, and still managed to out-Corsi Miller.
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Over the past few days, Dave Maloney’s quotes on Hockey Night Live have made the rounds around the interwebs. Maloney stated that in the view of upper management, the Rangers were “unwatchable” by upper management because they never had the puck. They were blocking shots and limiting their offensive players, which led to a lot of time in the defensive zone.
This was the reason why John Tortorella was fired. There are other quotes about players taking a lot of abuse, but in hockey it’s about results. Management wasn’t happy about the on-ice product, so they let Torts go.
The interesting thing here is that over the course of last season, the Rangers were one of the better puck possession teams in hockey. During the regular season, the Rangers were 9th in the league in CF% (52.0%), and 6th in the league in FF% (53.5%).
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Though the skills competition isn’t really a fair way to determine the winner of a hockey game, success in the shootout has granted some teams entry to the postseason and – as Rangers fans know all too well – denied others.
Thanks in large part to Henrik Lundqvist’s heroics, New York has traditionally been a solid shootout club. The Blueshirts went 4-4 in the event last season and are 53-40 overall since its inception in 2005.
Last season, coach John Tortorella relied heavily on Ryan Callahan and Rick Nash in the shootout and it’s likely that new coach Alain Vigneault will do the same. It also seems like a no-brainer that Vigneault will deploy one of New York’s most deadly shootout weapons – Mats Zuccarello – now that the Norwegian is back for a full season. So who could Vigneault turn to in Callahan’s absence to start the season and in the event of future slumps/injuries? Let’s take a look at how New York’s forwards did in the skills competition last year: Read more »
Like it or not, they need him.
It’s no secret. I was very vocal about using our last compliance buyout on Brad Richards this summer. Rather than run the risk of injury and getting stuck with his cap hit —for what will seem like perpetuity if he does get injured— the Rangers decided to give him one last shot at glory.
While I’m disappointed in the decision, I assure you I won’t put a target on his back this year just because the org disagreed with me. After all, my name isn’t Scotty. What’s done is done, and now the org needs to shift gears and figure out what exactly is the best way to get the most of Richards.
Whether or not you think he will rebound this year likely depends on several variables. A) Are you an optimistic person? B) Do you trust or are you very comfortable with advanced stats? C) Do you believe Alain Vigneault and his systems will be an antidote.
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