Archive for Hockey Tactics
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.
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.
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.
Over the past several years, we’ve talked a lot about hockey system basics like forechecking, defensive 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.
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.