Archive for Hockey Tactics
The table is set for another round of the Penguins and the Rangers, who seem to meet in the playoffs as often as the Caps and the Rangers. This time around, it will be old friend Mike Sullivan, who was an assistant with the Rangers during the John Tortorella days, behind the bench in Pittsburgh. The change in coach means a change in system from the last time they met in the first round (last year).
The biggest change for the Penguins is that they are run a more aggressive style of play compared to Mike Johnston last year. They are more like Dan Bylsma’s Penguins in this regard, even without half their roster, as Pat pointed out. But even without key players, the Penguins enter the playoffs red hot and have really adopted this new style of play effectively.
Last season was an oddity for the Rangers. They didn’t maintain their solid possession game from the prior season, one which carried them to the Stanley Cup Final, but their scoring was up. It was tough to argue with the results, even if the process changed. The process change was subtle, it simply shifted the focus on using the tremendous team speed to generate chances off the rush.
It was something I broke down last season, as the Rangers appeared to have set plays for this. They had the stretch pass, the blue line to blue line pass, and the “Chris Kreider play.” They also forechecked in a manner designed to force a turnover at either blue line and turn the play the other way. It was magnificent to watch, as the team speed was put on full display.
Now, it seems the style of play has caught on to the rest of the league. Teams are anticipating the forecheck and breaking through, creating rush chances of their own. They are also anticipating the stretch passes that generate so many rushes.
The Rangers are at a crossroads. Specifically Alain Vigneault, Ulf Samuelsson, and Scott Arniel are at a crossroads. They will not change deployment. They cannot change the roster. The only thing left for them to change is the system in which the Rangers play. Change it to something that is not only easy to learn, but easy for an aging team –specifically aging blue liners that can’t skate anymore– to adapt on limited notice.
There are three areas the Rangers’ coaching staff needs to make adjustments to get the most out of their team. They aren’t major tweaks. Just minor ones that are easy to implement and easier for skilled/veteran players to adapt to. These areas that need adjustments are the penalty kill, defensive zone coverage, and breakouts.
For many years now on this site we’ve talked about the Rangers mediocre power play, what’s wrong with it, and what we’d do to fix it. Fortunately for the Rangers, recently history suggests that you can win a Stanley Cup without an elite power play. The LA Kings proved this twice (sad face), as have the Bruins and the Penguins.
The penalty kill is a different story. None of the clubs mentioned above had a PK rate under 83% in their Cup winning seasons; same goes for the Chicago Blackhawks and their runs.
This season the Rangers are only killing off 77% of their penalties, which is good for 26th in the NHL. That does not bode well for any team trying to compete for a Cup, let alone one currently in the top half of the League in minor penalties. And no, Eric Staal doesn’t help you there.
In order for the Rangers to have a fighting chance this postseason, the PK needs to get fix. Here’s three issues the Rangers need to address to fix the kill.
It is often said in the sports business that the third season in a coach’s tenure is sometimes their most difficult. Players tend to tire from the same voice. A coach’s tendencies with x’s and o’s tend to become a little stagnant and predictable for the opposition. Players end up unhappy with their roles and can sometimes lose hope in gaining more responsibilities. The list goes on.
It is at this critical juncture, coaches need to find ways to make adjustments to their system and how they manage their bench.
The Rangers seem to be hitting that lull. Their scoring chance differential at even strength is a -128. That’s by far the worst differential this organization has had since they started tracking the stat 10 years ago. Whether this is due to players tiring of AV or not is anyone’s guess. Regardless, the roster is what it is and adjustments have not been made.
I received two questions from BenM last week about faceoffs. Since the Rangers scored the Game Seven overtime winner off a faceoff win, it makes sense that people would be looking at faceoffs as a whole again, so let’s get into it.
Q: How much of AV’s line changes can be attributed to faceoffs?
I’m guessing you mean the shuffled lines, moving Kevin Hayes to wing and Dominic Moore to the 3C spot. In this regard, I don’t think this was in regards to faceoffs, but more about how to deal without Mats Zuccarello. The lines were juggled after Game Three against Washington, but the Rangers played well in most of those games. They also played well in the final four games of the series.
If you’re referring to in-game decisions about where he deploys his lines, I think that has more to do with the location of the faceoff and the Washington skaters on the ice. In the late game, a guy like Dominic Moore will probably get more ice time, as he’s the only guy that can be relied upon to consistently win faceoffs.
One item of note: Very rarely are faceoffs won clean. Wingers getting to the puck are what win/lose faceoffs for the most part. On the Derek Stepan winner, it was Jesper Fast who got in and chipped the puck back to Keith Yandle to start the play.
Sorry I couldn’t get the goal breakdown last night folks, but they won, so I don’t think anyone really cares that I missed it. Anywho, I GIF’d up the Ryan McDoangh overtime winner here, and here it is in all its glory:
A lot happens on this play, so let’s break it down. First things first, you notice how Jesper Fast creates this entire goal with two plays. First, he pressures Curtis Glencross into a neutral zone turnover.
We are through three games in the Metro Division Finals against the Washington Capitals, and all three games have been heart-attack-inducing. Braden Holtby and Henrik Lundqvist have almost matched each other save for save, with Holtby stealing one last night to give the Caps a 2-1 series lead.
One of the prevalent observations is that the Rangers are “making it easy” on Holtby by “throwing a lot of shots at his gut.” The problem with this theory is that it discounts how good Holtby has been. Shots hit a goalie in the logo because of the positioning of the goaltender, not the quality of the shot. Holtby is playing to a .949 SV%, and while he’s had to make some spectacular saves, he’s been so good positionally that he doesn’t give the Rangers much to shoot at.
Limiting Rush Chances
The 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs have officially arrived. Tonight is Game One of the first round, in which the 8th seeded Pittsburgh Penguins will take on the President’s Trophy winning New York Rangers. The Rangers ran away with the Eastern Conference, setting team records with 53 wins, 113 points, and leading the league in goal differential by a wide margin. The Penguins backed into the playoffs, clinching on the last day against the worst team in history.
Just because the Penguins are slumping doesn’t mean they are a bad team. This is a team with two future Hall of Famers in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, decent forward depth, and –when healthy– a good defensive unit. Marc-Andre Fleury has shed some of his playoff demons as well. The Pens are a good matchup for the Rangers, but they are still a difficult matchup.
You know your team’s powerplay sucks when you can barely find clips of it in 31 games worth of highlights on the internet. I spent hours on the interweb for this post trying to find some highlights of decent powerplay scoring chances or big saves from opposing goalies. Unfortunately, they are few and far between. I guess that is the state of the Rangers man-advantage right now, not exactly YouTube worthy.
To date, the Rangers are clicking at 15.7%, which is good for 21st in the league. Unlike the last, I don’t know 15 years, the Rangers actually have some decent personnel to work with. You’d figure with the career powerplay points between Rick Nash (203), Martin St. Louis (311), and Dan Boyle (283), we’d be able to muster up at least a 20% success rate.
Yet this season feels different, not only in personnel, but in execution. We’re no longer short right-handed shots. We’re no longer reliant on dump and chase hockey to gain our entries. We should be better at this, but for some reason(s) we’re stuck in mediocrity — again.
Here are a few things AV and Arnie need to fix.
1) Too much puck possession
In the old days, before Corsi or Fenwick stats, possessing the puck actually meant holding on to it rather than ramping up shot attempts. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed with this year’s power play it’s that the Rangers hold onto the puck too much. They need to ditch their old puck possession ways and embrace this new definition of puck possession (shots!).
If you look at the top teams in the league in PP conversion, none of them are in the bottom third of the league in PP shots. The Rangers are ranked 20th. It’s not rocket science. You have to shoot to score.
2) We’re too predictable
If you flip through the heat maps (courtesy of sporting charts.com) of where successful teams score goals on the power play, they’re usually not confined to one area. I grabbed the Penguins and TBL’s scoring locations (since they also run variations of the 1-3-1) and compared them to NYR.
You can see the differences pretty clearly. Those teams have scored from everywhere and it’s because they can put pucks on net from anywhere. This makes it much harder for opposing PKs to defend when you have to respect the fact that a team can score from just about anywhere.
The Rangers on the other hand like to run the same play over and over and over. See these clips below from the Red Wings game. Not only are these from the same shift, they are from the same sequence! Three straight attempts that were mirror images of each other. No bueno!
3) Change the point of attack
The Rangers aren’t the only team to run a 1-3-1 power play. Far from it. However, they seem to be the only team that quarterbacks it exclusively from the point, which defeats the purpose of its design.
The best part about the 1-3-1 is you can queue it up from multiple positions (points, either boards, or below the goal line using the slot forward). Changing the point of the attack will not only get us away from these predictable rightwing perimeter shots, but it will also force the PK to change their defensive structure which inevitably leads to blown coverages.
Whatever the coaches implement, hopefully the Rangers start to put a few away on the advantage soon. The easy part of our schedule is ending soon.