Archive for Hockey Tactics
In life, sometimes it is the simplest of decisions that can put you in a position to succeed or fail. Hockey is no different. Being in the right position at the right time usually doesn’t happen by chance. It’s a decision or a chain of decisions that can set you up with a Goal For or a Goal Against.
Perhaps there isn’t a more critical time to get that decision making process right then when you are on the backcheck. For the Rangers, executing their backchecking system is crucial to their counter game, which you all know has been the bread and butter of AV’s system during his time in New York.
For today’s post, we’ll breakout the different ways teams execute backchecking systems and discuss whether or not the Rangers are excelling at this aspect of the game. Then maybe if we have some time later in the comments, we’ll discuss what kind of seasonal fabrics everyone should be buying for the holidays!
When the Rangers lost Mika Zibanejad to a broken leg, the Rangers lost perhaps the one forward that would be the most difficult to replace. Zibanejad is a unique forward for the Rangers not in production, but the curveball he throws to the opposition when matching up. The majority of the Rangers are left-handed, pass-first players. Zibanejad is the exact opposite as a right-handed, shoot-first player.
This is the kind of player that the Rangers sorely needed for the longest time, as he was the pure shooter the Rangers needed not only at even strength, but even more so on the powerplay. It was the most evident the other night against Ottawa, when the Rangers could get nothing going on with the man advantage.
The Rangers have been a marvel to watch this season. After a significant upgrade at forward, the Rangers are steamrolling opponents to a top-three in the league 57% scoring-chances-for (SCF%) rating. The league leading 62 (as of this writing) goals scored are also pretty nice as well. But perhaps the biggest difference is the defensive zone play.
Last year, the Rangers hemorrhaged shots from all over the defensive zone, putting up some of the worst Corsi (quantity) and Scoring-Chance (quality) numbers against we’ve seen in a while. It was a two-part problem. The first was personnel, which was going to be almost impossible to fix. The second part was system based, which required an adjustment by Alain Vigneault, something many thought to be impossible based on the comments across the blog and Twitter.
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.