Archive for Hockey Tactics
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.