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Category: Hockey Tactics

Neutral zone counters – the backbone of NYR’s success

The modern day neutral zone

The modern day neutral zone

Everyone always wants to talk about whether or not teams should be dumping the puck vs. carrying or if teams are out- shooting (possessing) the opposition. In reality, these things are just outputs. They are the end result of how well a team is executing the process. For many teams, part of that process is their neutral zone systems.

The general consensus among 1-2-2 coaches like Alain Vigneault, is that the game is often won and lost in the neutral zone. Therefore, an extra effort is placed on designing tactics to win this part of the ice.

So what are those tactics?

Aside from forechecking strategies, which we have talked about a lot in the past, the two other fundamental systems employed in this area of the ice are neutral zone counters and regroups.

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2014-2015 Rangers season preview

AV will look to return to the Stanley Cup Final this year.

AV will look to return to the Stanley Cup Final this year.

Today is the first day of the season for the Rangers, as they are in St. Louis to take on the Blues at 8pm tonight. The Rangers are doing so shorthanded, without top line center Derek Stepan, but they boast a team filled with incredible speed. They will use that speed to blow past defenders and generate offensive chances, both by dumping the puck in and by gaining the zone via carry in.

Despite the roster turnover, the Rangers kept the core intact, and managed to replace those that left with –mostly– kids from the system. The good news is that unlike last year, this team won’t go through the growing pains of a new coach and drastically new systems to learn. Let’s go over those systems.

Forecheck:

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Martin St. Louis’ changed defensive responsibilities at center

Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images

Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images

One of the bigger stories out of last night’s game was Martin St. Louis and his move to center. Commenter Ranger Fan in Boston emailed me about the biggest differences that MSL will face in the transition, and while MSL covered the higher level points on TV, I figured it would be nice to break it down into how his role changes in Alain Vigneault’s system.

As MSL stated in the first intermission, the biggest change for him would be in the defensive zone. Wingers, generally speaking are playing zone defense high in the zone looking to transition to offense while covering the point. Naturally, the location of the winger changes based on puck location and situation, but for the most part wingers are up high. Centers, on the other hand, are more engaged low in the zone, sticking the other team’s center in the zone.

That’s an over simplification of the difference between wing and center, but we can go a bit further into how his role changes for AV’s strong-side overload/man coverage hybrid the Rangers use in the defensive zone.

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Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Rangers vs. Canadiens

(Eric Bolte/Reuters)

Rangers fans are certainly getting a taste of different hockey clubs this postseason. After playing the Capitals four out of the last five postseasons and the Devils three times in the past eight years, the Rangers squared off against Philly for the first time since 1997 and now get the Montreal Canadiens for the first time since 1996.

Unlike 1996, when both teams’ windows to win were closing, this time around both clubs square off with their respective windows wide open. This series will go deep and will be one for the books for sure.

Offense:

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Getting the most out of Martin St. Louis

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Courtesy of Getty Images

It has started already hasn’t it? Like Nash vs. Dubi & Arty, or Torts vs. AV, or Prust vs. [insert annual banger’s last name here], Rangers fans are watching Martin St. Louis’ every move and comparing them to the box scores coming out of Tampa.

To date, many have already declared a winner and loser of this trade. Our former captain has potted 6 points in 9 games, including a game winner. Moreover, his fit with the Tampa Bay Lightning was recently described as ‘seamless’ by head coach John Cooper.

For the Rangers? Marty’s integration with the Blueshirts has been about as fitting as a suit from Men’s Warehouse. Far from bespoke.

With that said, now isn’t the time to analyze the trade or compare box scores on a game by game basis. That won’t do anyone any good. Right now, we have to figure out how to make this work, because this whole zero goals in eleven games thing can’t continue much longer.

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Olympic hockey systems starting to take shape

Last week in my NHL fan guide to Olympic hockey, I briefly spoke about how systems on international ice can be a bit different than what we are used to seeing in North American rinks. After watching much of group play, we’re starting to get a sense of how teams are tactically approaching their opponents with the extra 15 feet of ice.

If there’s one common denominator in many of these games, it is that there’s still not a hell of a lot of room out there, especially in the neutral zone. I expected a lot of trapping from the Latvia’s and Slovenia’s, as overmatched teams generally employ such systems. However, even top teams like Canada, Sweden, and Finland are using these same conservative structures.

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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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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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New AV Squad episode tonight, some Cam Talbot and Alain Vigneault quotes

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you know that we love the shows where the Rangers talk with the coaches to discuss the x’s and o’s of the game. We were big fans of “Behind the Bench” with John Tortorella, and we are equally fans of “The AV Squad” with Alain Vigneault. MSG was kind enough to provide us with some quotes from tonight’s all-new episode at 6pm, just before the game tonight. The show give us a behind-the-scenes look at the past two weeks in Rangerland. Due to the timing of the Henrik Lundqvist deal, that will have to wait until the next episode

In this episode, AV talks about getting the team to be more consistent, but trying to avoid moving his lines around too much.

“At this point, I’d rather believe in the players, give them more opportunity, give them another chance on the ice as far as showing what they can do. Maybe sometime you give them a little less ice time because you’re not satisfied with what’s going on, but we’ve got to work ourselves into the team that we believe we can be.”

AV also tells host Bill Pidto that the recent win over Vancouver might have tasted a little sweeter than the rest.

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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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