AnalysisHockey Tactics

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


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.

Show More
  • Nice breakdown. Most people bash the pp cause they either dont understand how a true pp works. A good pp does not require a ton of shots, it requires the right shot. As fans yell “Shoot it” I yell “Pass it around alot”. The Stepan pp goal against the Sens in the playoffs was a perfect example. Get the pk moving, draw them out of position and execute the one chance. The longer they are in the zone, the more chances they should get. As youve stated above the re-entry of the zone Nash will help. I feel that is one of the biggest problems the pp has.

    • Agreed. Though I think at times they were a little too pass happy (particularly Stepan), it is ultimately about finding the right shot as opposed to shoot from anywhere, which is what the fans seem to want.

      • I agree Stepan is pass happy regardless of situation. Fans have to remember these arent the goalies of the 80s where any whot has a chance. Remember last season, fans chanted for “We want Avery”, and “We dont want you (to Nash)”.

    • It’s simple when are on PP teams rush the points knowing we dont have a cannon back there and 2) no one to hit net if open (del Zotto) Our points had no time at all. Movement of others frees up point

  • Torts has been a coach for many years and he does not change too much. I believe Nash can help break out of the zone, but feel we are still a defense-first hockey team. Will the PP improve? I would hope so, but I still do not think we have a solid point man or director on the ice. If MDZ can play that spot, great, but I feel Nash and Gabby need to find the open spot, and get off one-timers in a split second. They can both do that, but making open space and moving the puck efficiently is something that needs improvement. Is Richards that point man? Not sure. One thing that should improve with a big body in front of the net, is the rebound goals due to poor sight-lines for the goalis.

      • That is just it Suit, my issue with Tortorella is that he does fail to use players in situations that get the max out of their strengths while limiting their weaknesses.

        When the Rangers do field a healthy lineup then Tortorella should be adapting his system to get the best possible results.

        I am not asking them to cherry pick but I do see this roster as having enough players who are better suited to play the “safe is death” than they are the closed in defensive system Tortorella has been using.

        • He does make tweaks based on personnel, just nobody notices it or talks about it other than me. And half the time I break it down in these posts, people still don’t get it. They just keep quoting the media.

          Point in case, he tweaked his neutral zone PK formation (, to be more offensive, yet all you ever hear about is how his system is so “defensive.”

  • Suit, nice break down, and analysis. The visuals helps those who might not have played the game, and not know the little things that make the difference between getting pressure on goal, or having the puck shot out of the attack zone by their d-man!

    The key to success on the PP is the QB at the point. Richards does a nice job, and MDZ will get there sooner, rather than later. This seasons PP will be much different that last because of two thing. First of all, Nash will require attention from the PK personnel, and will give Gabby additional room to roam the ice. Secondly, the view obstruction created by the big frame in front of the goalie. Nash is a big boy, and will be the second coming of Phil Esposito, that is as far as being our trash collecter. He will get his fair share of rebounds for scoreing.

    When one considers all that Rick Nash brings to the table, it’s really a wonder how we got him for sooooooo little. No disrespect for Dubi, and AA, but I believe that this trade will work wonders for this team!

  • Great analysis on Nash. Nash is a much different star/impact player than Gabby. Nash will use his body on the forecheck and get in front of the net. Gabby is more finesse and uses his speed and stickhandling as his main weapons. Nash is similar though in that he also has a great shot and stickhandling ability. Having Nash and Cally on the PP give us two guys to put in rebounds and create havoc in front of the goalie.

    If there is not a lockout- We probably desperately needed Nash because Gabby will be out. I just say this because what if our scoring problems continued, and we did not have a true scoring player to rely on. Now I know Nash is not a savior in himself, but when teams have to worry about him and Gabby (and Kreider!), it puts us in an advantage.

    Seeing Dubi get introduced in CBJ kind of hurt and made me sad, but seeing Nash in a Rangers sweater made up for it. Seems like he is saying all the right things.

    Just to put this out there, what if Sauer comes back mid-season- that would give us a huge boost. Seems like they are sticking with Bickel and hoping Sauer can return this season and take his place.

  • Great article!! I am soooo happy to be a Ranger Fan!!! I’ve been waiting since 1970 when I first became a fan at 5, to see this team do things the right way !!!! Thank you God!!! And thank you Torts!!! It was our coach that turned Sather into a rebuilder rather than a GM that trades for old past their prime useless players that don’t care! Thank you god again!!!

    • Sather became a builder in 2004 when he traded Leetch for prospects and draft choices. He knew there was a risk of a lockout and Leetch was an aging asset. It took a long time for drafts, trades and free agent signings to finally come together and create the team we have now. And there were plenty of mistakes along the way. But we should now have a great team for at least 2 years before free agency hurts us. (And I was not a Sather fan until last year.)

      • I also wasn’t a Sather fan until he pulled off the Nash deal and as I stated before, all is forgiven except the Leetch trade. I will never forgive him for that. Leetch earned the rite to be a lifelong Ranger. Sather need to show a little loyalty which he did not with Leetch.

          • I think Mike Gartner should have been part of the ’94 team. But Neil Smith gave Keenan the team he wanted and won a Stanley Cup. Hard to argue with success.

  • Hey Greg, I think you read my mind!! I have the same exact thoughts! When I read your post I thought I wrote it! Great analysis!!

  • One more thing – when Zuccarello was there, he gave the PP a different dimension (shorter, lol). No seriously, he was a bit more creative, not just pushing back around the perimeter, but moving with the puck to create openings. I think, hope and pray that Nash can do something similar. It makes your perimeter shots look good when they can step into a shot with more than a split second to get it off.

  • Nash is also underrated on the PK. If you look at his numbers between Hitchcock and Arniel, Hitchcock used Nash on the PK, while Arniel didn’t. No surprise that Nash’s best years were under Hitchcock. Arniel didn’t utilize him properly.

  • SO how do we handle the new 4th line? Roll 3 lines again?

    I really think this is Torts opportunity to put the system he wants…

    • Ultimately it depends on how some of these new bottom 6 guys play. If they forecheck well, they’ll earn more ice time and allow Torts to roll 4 lines more often.

  • I think with the talent on the team Trots is going to have to use a hybrid to his system. Defense first is still a key to success.
    However with the likes of Richards, Gaborik, Nash, Kreider and Hagelin an up tempo speed game has to become part of the system. Tortorella is a savy coach and I am sure he is racking his brains as we speak.
    Let’s get the contract done NHL so we have a season to watch, Let’s go Rangers

    • Hi Leatherneckinlv.I noticed your screen name and i live in Henderson NV.Anyway been a die hart Ranger fan since the 60’s and i love the direction that the Rangers are FINALLY going in.Can’t wait for the season to start.

    • Defense first systems release the speed game because they cause turnovers and the other lot his to react to a quick transition. When you have speed you play defense first.

  • I agree with everything you say but at the same time your making last seasons ranger team seem not competitive. For crying out loud we won the East in the regular season and went to the conference finals and was two wins away from the Cup finals.

    I agree the rangers needed someone like Nash but don’t make it seem like without him we are subpar.

    • Not sure why you think I am down on last year’s squad or believe the Rangers weren’t competitive. Never said that in any post I’ve written. However, last year’s PP was mediocre and Nash should help to fix that.

  • Assets give you the ability to have a great team. This team still needs a Sauer type bruiser and a speed center. But let’s see what else Sather has in his bag of tricks.

  • Nice article. My one question (and one that no one seems to have asked) is what will our PP actually look like? Gaborik and Nash are both lefties who play the right wing on the PP. Do we put Nash in front? He seems capable at the spot but it just doesn’t seem like the best way to maximize his talents.

    Let’s pretend everyone is healthy, and we have a PP where we need to score or we lose, our 5 should be Nash, Gaborik, Richards, Callhan, and Del Zotto/McDonagh/Girardi. How does that work? Girardi is the 3rd best option in that final spot, meaning we have 4 lefties and a righty. Richards would take one point but that still leaves either Nash in front, or Cally in front and Nash or Gaboik on the wrong wing. I could draw out this situation further but I think my point is pretty obvious. How do we make this work?

    • Nash plays left wing just as well as right wing, so I see him rotating between the slot and either wing depending on who else is out on the ice. His handedness almost doesn’t matter because he’s just as good playing the off wing.

      Ideally you’d like to see a right handed shot at the point, but Girardi isn’t that guy, so I think you’ll still see a Richards/MDZ combo up high. Good questions though, I like where your head is at.

  • Back to top button