Archive for Hockey Tactics
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.
If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you know that we love the shows where the Rangers talk with the coaches to discuss the x’s and o’s of the game. We were big fans of “Behind the Bench” with John Tortorella, and we are equally fans of “The AV Squad” with Alain Vigneault. MSG was kind enough to provide us with some quotes from tonight’s all-new episode at 6pm, just before the game tonight. The show give us a behind-the-scenes look at the past two weeks in Rangerland. Due to the timing of the Henrik Lundqvist deal, that will have to wait until the next episode
In this episode, AV talks about getting the team to be more consistent, but trying to avoid moving his lines around too much.
“At this point, I’d rather believe in the players, give them more opportunity, give them another chance on the ice as far as showing what they can do. Maybe sometime you give them a little less ice time because you’re not satisfied with what’s going on, but we’ve got to work ourselves into the team that we believe we can be.”
AV also tells host Bill Pidto that the recent win over Vancouver might have tasted a little sweeter than the rest.
Last season we talked a lot about defensive zone systems (e.g., the low zone collapse, overload, hybrid man-on-man, etc.), and particularly what the Rangers as a team were trying to execute to prevent quality/dangerous shots on net. Today we’re going to zoom in on one specific area within the defensive end, the net zone, since it’s a small part of the system that I’ve notice has been tweaked based on who is between the pipes and on ice matchups.
To give you a refresher, the net zone (as diagramed above) is the area around the crease, which is generally the responsibility of the second defensemen back (in this case the RD). This player’s job is to protect the slot at all costs. However, within this zone, there’s essentially two different ways to defend the crease and support your goaltender.
It’s no secret, the biggest problem the Rangers have had the last several seasons is the lack of a respectable power play. Not since the 2009-10 season have the Blueshirts finished in the top half of the league in PP conversions, and not since the 1998-99 season have the Rangers had a top 5 power play. Although it’s still a bit early to call our current power play elite, or even a team strength, you have to like what assistant coach Scott Arniel has done with the man advantage in the early goings.
To date, the Rangers have converted on 20% of their power plays, good for 13th in the league. The boys are doing all the right things on the advantage like player movement, puck movement, setting screens, and getting pucks on net from all areas of the ice. If they can keep it up, I can see this power play being really good for the first time in a very long time.
This is definitely going to be an interesting season covering NYR’s x’s and o’s, as coaching changes always bring about new looks and different styles of play. And while I was indeed a pro-Torts guy, I’m looking forward to seeing what AV and his staff have up their sleeves.
Today we’re just going to cover even strength play, since I know these tactic posts can get a little lengthy and I always prefer brevity over anything robust. Next week I’ll focus on the power play and the kill.
With that said, make no mistake. Although AV isn’t completely overhauling the way they play, there are some key differences. It’s going to take a while for everything to come together, so…hold fast.
Offensive Zone Strategy
By now, most of our regular readers are aware I was a big supporter of John Tortorella and the team concept he constructed for the New York Rangers. To say the least, I was very disappointed with Glen Sather’s decision to fire him.
Although I had an up close perspective of John that most did not, I still disagreed with some of his decisions/strategies. And while AV isn’t the type of coach I really identify with, there are few tactics AV could implement to win me over.
Below are three things AV should change about the Torts-era Rangers.
Give McDonagh a more offensive role
With the exception of a few depth signings, it appears Glen Sather will keep the Rangers roster mostly intact for the 2013-14 season. Rather than take a shot at Jarome Iginla, Derek Roy, or Daniel Alfredsson (all of whom signed one year deals), the organization has instead decided to keep Brad Richards around for at least one more season. Barring a trade, it looks as though AV will have to work with what he’s got.
Getting the Rangers back to being one of the best 5-on-5 hockey teams shouldn’t be an issue for this staff. Even if there hadn’t been a coaching change, the underlying numbers suggest even-strength goals scored should theoretically rebound. The Rangers after all were one of the better puck possession teams in the league last season. However, as we’ve learned since the ’05 lockout, solid 5-on-5 hockey can only get you so far.
Since Tortorella’s firing last week, there’s been a lot of different coaches with different systems/philosophies linked to the Rangers head coaching position. As I said last week in my Tortorella obituary post, Sather left it open as far as what he’s looking for in his next coach. Since Glen gave fans the mushroom treatment again, I figured I would at least tell you all what I’m looking for in the next Rangers coach.
To be clear, this post is not about forecasting. I’m not reading into any beat writer rumors or any of the supposed “scoop” that apparently every Canadian insider has on the position. Sather only reveals nuggets to the press when he wants to. In this instance, he isn’t revealing squat. So please spare me the sourced articles. Glen’s table is smaller than Dolan’s moles would like to believe.
During Tuesday night’s game, I noticed the Bruins were finding an easy way to exploit the Rangers aggressive 2-1-2 forecheck early in the first period. The Rangers just seemed a step behind making contact with the puck carrier. While I always prefer a 2-1-2 forecheck and I am glad it is the system Torts has installed, I couldn’t help but think an adjustment needed to be made. Generally speaking, when guys are a step behind, the 2-1-2 becomes very, very risky.
Anyway, so the Bruins were putting on a clinic, creating three quality scoring chances before the game hit the 10 minute mark. I started to think to myself, “Come on Torts, make the adjustment. Drop the third guy back.”
And what does Tortorella do? He makes the adjustment.
The Rangers and the Bruins are set to do battle in the Eastern Conference Semis, and this series is expected to be as difficult a series as the Washington series. The Rangers haven’t faced the Bruins since the very beginning of the season, so their 2-0-1 record against the Bruins this season does not reflect the deadline deals that both teams made. Coming into the playoffs, the Rangers were one of the hottest teams in the NHL, and the Bruins were playing .500 hockey. Now they both have great momentum, with the Rangers taking the final two games against the Caps and the Bruins coming back from down 4-1 in the third to dispatch the Leafs in seven.
The Bruins and Rangers are very similar teams in makeup, but they play two very different styles of hockey. The Rangers are a very aggressive team, and the Bruins are the exact opposite. Boston plays a trapping style and a passive, physical game to wear down their opponents. The only similarity between the Rangers and the Bruins is that they are both stellar defensive teams.