Category: Hockey Tactics

Tortorella adjusts breakout, leading to more scoring chances

I know there is a small, but vocal contingent of the blogosphere that will trash Tortorella when the team isn’t performing well and leave him alone when the team wins. Some people just look at the scoreboard and develop a strong opinion about the man and that’s all there is to it. Part of being a sports fan I suppose. However, what we try to do on this site is dig a little deeper.

When you peel back the onion a bit, one of the things I have come to appreciate about Tortorella are the less publicized tactics he uses to help win hockey games. Last season he changed up the Rangers neutral zone forecheck on the penalty kill, which aimed to create short-handed chances. This year he’s developed a new breakout designed to beat neutral zone traps.

Breakout1

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Hockey systems – Defensive zone

If you’ve been coming to this website for a while, hopefully you’ve been reading all of my hockey systems posts. To date, we have discussed forechecking, puck possession strategies, powerplay strategies, penalty killing and face-off tactics. We’ve also covered Tortorella’s systems and philosophies with great depth, which you can read about here.

The one aspect of a hockey system we really haven’t talked about much are defensive zone strategies. The three most common systems are the strong-side overload, low zone collapse/box+1 and man-on-man coverage.

Unlike other aspects of a hockey system, defensive zone strategies are not really implemented in a “one size fits all” approach anymore. The game has evolved. More and more teams are using certain strategies for specific game situations.

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The benefits of switching Gaborik to LW

Photo credit: Jim McIsaac

Photo credit: Jim McIsaac

One of the bigger stories during minicamp has been the position switch made by Marian Gaborik. Gaborik, a left-handed shot, has played the off-wing his entire career, until now. This season, Gaborik will at least start the year on the left side, with Derek Stepan as his center and Ryan Callahan as his right wing (the other top line is Carl Hagelin-Brad Richards-Rick Nash). Many –including myself– assumed it would be Nash playing on the left side, something he’s done in the past. But Gaborik on the left side offers some very important benefits.

Spreading out the defense

Torts decided to resist the urge of putting together a super line of Nash-Richards-Gaborik, which would surely draw the top defensive assignments from both the blue liners and top defensive forwards in league. By keeping one of the wingers off the line, and with another very competent center in Stepan, the Rangers will force teams to spread out their defensive assignments, making them more vulnerable to miscues. This is something we talked a lot about last year with Torts’ line juggling.

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Hockey systems: What Nash means to the Rangers power play

Umbrella

Hockey will be back soon and finally we can start talking about the systems and strategies of this great game we all know and love. One of the most critical – and contested – aspects of the Rangers system in 2012 was their power play.

For the sake of brevity, I will just say last year’s mediocre power play was not due to coaching decisions or their umbrella formation (seen above). The problem was a lack of execution based on limited personnel. Penalty killers could key in on one guy and knew the others either wouldn’t sense open ice (hockey IQ) or put a quality shot on net.

So how can Nash help the Rangers improve?

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An early look at the Rangers bottom six

Brian Boyle will be a key cog of the bottom six.

Brian Boyle will be a key cog of the bottom six.

Last week we took an early look at the Rangers potential top 6 line combinations. I think the majority of us agree some iteration of Ryan Callahan, Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Rick Nash, Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan will comprise our top 2 scoring lines. With that said, the Rangers bottom six is a bit less certain.

The assumption is Carl Hagelin, Brian Boyle, Taylor Pyatt, Mike Rupp, Jeff Halpern and Arron Asham will fill those roles. However, three of those six have never played for John Tortorella before and we all know how Torts utilizes his 4th line…

Ultimately, it comes down to skating, work effort and a team first attitude. If any of these guys prove to be a liability in any of those facets of the game, they will be replaced by someone from Hartford.

On to the line combos…

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An early look at the Rangers top 6

Today, we’re going to take a break from CBA talk and look down the road to training camp and beyond. Call me hopeful, but this suit thinks the NHL will play a partial season. With this in mind, perhaps no other aspect of a training camp, preseason, or regular season roster is more critiqued & analyzed by fans than line combinations, especially how Torts generates line combos.

Creating line combos is everyone’s chance to play armchair coach. It doesn’t matter what team you follow or which coach stands behind your bench. Every fan wants to dream up lines and see them produce. For the Rangers, this will be the first time John Tortorella will have a top 6 that won’t be a revolving door.

In his first few seasons as coach, Torts lacked a top flight center. As a result, Torts was left to choose from average Joes for the first line such as Erik Christensen, Ollie Jokinen and Brandon Dubinsky, to name a few. Once Brad Richards came aboard and Derek Stepan emerged, the Rangers center position stabilized. Of course, then they lacked a premiere scorer on the left side of the ice. From 2009-2011, guys best suited for bottom 6 minutes like Avery, Fedotenko, Chris Higgins and Wojtek Wolski all had stints in a top 6 role.

With a 2013 season hopefully around the corner, Torts could finally have balanced scoring throughout the lineup. Here’s an early look at what opening night line combinations could look like…

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What Nash means to the Rangers hockey system

With this week’s blockbuster trade, many are now wondering just how far the Rangers will go with the addition of Rick Nash.  While it’s still way too early to be penciling us in as front-runners to win the Cup, one thing we can do is look at how the Rangers might change from an x’s & o’s or “systems” perspective.

Fortunately for John Tortorella, adding Nash doesn’t necessarily require a complete strategic overhaul the way acquiring Jagr once did. Nash will fit like a glove in our current team template. Why? Because Nash’s offense is versatile. He’s not a one trick pony.

Forechecking Strategy

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Nash can score off the forecheck, he can score off the rush, he make plays cycling off the half wall, and he can jam the crease with that 6’4 frame of his. Guys like this are tailor-made for John Tortorella’s aggressive 2-1-2 forechecking system, which requires skaters to hunt for the puck down low and create offense below the dots. This is not a sit back and clog up the neutral zone type team. Their identity is built around skating and effort above all else.

Of course, 5-on-5 forechecking is just one aspect of a hockey system, so we will also look at how adding Nash might cause Torts to tweak other aspects of our system like the power play and our propensity to block shots.

Defensive Zone Strategy

Low Zone Collapse - Corner Low Zone Collapse - Behind Net

This past post-season the media made a lot of fuss about the Rangers defensive zone strategy, which required our players to collapse around the net and block a lot of shots.  What got lost in their slanted coverage is that in today’s NHL, more and more offensive teams are adopting this style of play. Point in case, during the 2001-02 season 9 teams blocked over a 1,000 shots. Last season 27 teams blocked over 1,000 shots, and the other 3 teams were pretty damn close.

With that said, now that we have two legit scoring lines, you may see the Rangers tweak their d-zone strategy, at least for our top 6 players. Rather than play a low zone collapse (as seen above), the Rangers will probably station 1 or 2 wingers closer to the opposing defensemen at the blueline for a chance to create more odd-man rushes.

By no means will this team be cherry picking in the neutral zone, as the Pavel Bure’s of the world once did, but I would expect our skilled forwards to be more aggressive than last season. Also, our bottom 6 players will likely still play more conservatively. They will be tasked to defend homeplate at all costs, as they should.

Obviously it is going to take some time for the Rangers to come together and all get on the same page. Hopefully fans show a little more patience than they did last fall, when all but myself and Dave it seemed didn’t want Tortorella fired. Give it a chance. When it all comes together, it’s going to be great hockey.

A case for shot-blocking

____ is killing hockey. That seems to be the only headline that moves the dial in Canada these days.

Every couple of weeks it’s something else that is supposedly destroying the game. First it was keeping a hockey team in Nashville, a market that was never supposed to succeed. Whoops.

Then it was the Lightning’s 1-3-1 trap, which was supposed to lift them from mediocrity while simultaneously sink the NHL and its ratings. Shhh…don’t tell anyone they missed the playoffs and the ratings are breaking all kinds of records.

Finally, in the most recent piece of garbage written by Ken Campbell of The Hockey News, the Rangers strategy of blocking shots will kill the league because as Kenny said, everyone “found it frustrating to watch and devoid of excitement.” Further, he says, “The Rangers are bad for the NHL, that’s why. If you found the Rangers seven-game second round series against the Washington Capitals to be compelling hockey, then good on you.” Interesting stuff.

I swear a zombie apocalypse could be destroying mankind and Ken Campbell would still be finding some irrelevant hockey nugget and acting like it’ll cause hockey and humanity’s impending doom. But hey, what else do you expect from a writer who is anti-salary cap because of rookie initiation dinners?

I digress.

The real issue is the media has picked up this idea that the Rangers are in fact ruining the game and predictably all fingers are pointing to the man behind the bench. John Tortorella. Some have even gone as far to say that the NHL should develop rules to prohibit teams from blocking shots.

Well, as Samuel L. Jackson once famously said in Pulp Fiction, and I continue to say on this site…“well allow me to retort.

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Rangers vs. Devils Eastern Conference Finals preview

Another series for the Rangers ends in seven games and another series begins with just one day of rest in between. This time around, the six seeded Devils stand between the Rangers and a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Devils are here after beating third seeded Florida in seven games in the first round and fifth seeded Philadelphia in five games in the second round. From the get go, there are comparisons to 1994, but we don’t see it. Sure, it’s easy to say certain things are the same, but only Martin Brodeur remains from that series.

Offense

Surprisingly enough, the Devils are the team that outscored the Rangers (albeit by two goals) during the regular season. The Devils, like the Capitals before them, are a more skilled team up front than the Rangers. Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Patrick Elias, Travis Zajac, and Adam Henrique form a very potent set of five forwards that will be difficult to contain.

The Rangers are hoping to get more from Carl Hagelin, who had a great Game Seven against the Caps, in order to really counter the Devils’ attack. Brad Richards has been on fire this postseason and Marian Gaborik isn’t exactly struggling to generate chances. If Hagelin can help get that duo going, and the Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Ryan Callahan line can generate some offense, then the Rangers might be able to match the offensive output.

Advantage: Devils

Defense

While the Devils may have an advantage on offense, the defensive side of the game is all Rangers. The Rangers allowed 22 fewer goals than the Devils during the regular season and have not allowed more than three goals the entire post season (14 games). That is a NHL record. Where the Rangers have a solid top four in Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, and Michael Del Zotto, the Devils defense has multiple question marks outside of Anton Volchenkov. Marek Zidlicky has been a solid pickup for them, but on paper they don’t match up.

Advantage: Rangers

Goaltending

The battle of the best that has ever played the game versus the current best in the world. Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist are the past and the present in terms of elite NHL netminders. That said, Brodeur is having a great postseason for the Devils. Lundqvist has just been much better, as expected. The real question about this matchup is whether or not Brodeur will be able to match Lundqvist in this series. For the 40 year old netminder, it may not be as easy as matching up against Jose Theodore and Ilya Bryzgalov.

For more on each goaltender’s style, read Justin’s posts on Brodeur and on Lundqvist.

Advantage: Rangers

Powerplay

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Musings: Revisiting Nash, Line juggling, and more

Nash revisited?

With many expecting impending doom on Saturday the question is again being asked, could Nash help solve our PP and lead us to the Cup in ‘13?

While it may be premature to start talking about next season and beyond, I think the Rangers are going to make a run at Nash this offseason regardless of what happens over the next few days/weeks. I’m not sure if I agree with that strategy yet, but I’d be surprised if they pass up on the opportunity. Clearly the  power play personnel lacks finish, but will Nash really help? Will our youth grow into that role? There’s many ways to slice this.

Torts asked during press conference why he took a timeout. Really?

I often half jokingly point fingers at the media for their lack of knowledge of the game. If you compare hockey coverage to other sports, it’s amusing how bad the analysis can be. So when I was told someone asked Torts during his postgame press conference why he took his time out during the second period, I wasn’t sure if I should be disappointed or happy to have my point proven. P.S. His troops were tired from an extended shift.

Torts’ reaction was priceless. He just buried his head in his hands. Did anyone bring this incident up in their articles this morning? Of course not. And you wonder why this guy has no patience for these cats…

Media accuses Burke of hiding hockey decisions “behind the gay flag”

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