AnalysisHockey 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.


The image above is a simplified drawing of this new tactic Torts has implemented. The basic idea is that there are times when the opposition has elected not to forecheck and is sitting back in the neutral zone. Instead of trying to dipsy-doodle your way through a trap – which rarely works out – you’re coordinating a controlled breakout with set patterns. This helps to break the trap or at least cause defensive miscues.

For this play in particular, there’s essentially four things going on.

  • First, F3, or the forward furthest from the puck (in black) skates off the right wing wall in the neutral zone and can either continue towards the opposite boards or cut towards the middle. The idea here is that F3 is splitting the defense.
  • F1 and F2 (in blue and red respectively) double swing through the defensive zone and criss-cross each other taking the opposite forward’s position. From there they fly the zone.
  • The defensemen with the puck (in green) hits F3 with either a long or short pass, depending on which route F3 has elected to skate.
  • Finally, and most importantly, F3 one-touches the pass diagonally towards the wall behind opposition coverage where either F1 or F2 collects on the fly and rushes off into the opposing zone.

When everything works in tandem, generally an odd man rush will ensue because the defense has likely bit on F3 or the double swing. The Rangers don’t use this play every game, but when they do, it often results in a great offensive chance or a goal. I’ve seen this play garner both several times this season.

Here’s an example of when one of those instances pays off.

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  • Well, this is why Torts is a professional hockey coach and I’m a professional armchair coach.

    Nice catch, Suit.

  • At the professional level, coaches need to keep adjusting. Nice to see that this adjustment was made. We may need to make some more adjustments on the Power Play as well.

  • Another great post, I really like how the site goes into more depth on the game. Keep up the good work.

  • Agree with SalMerc, regarding the need for coaches at such a high level to adjust- and Tortarella certainly is doing so here. However, my fear is when other coaches adjust to this adjustment- which is inevitable, IMO. Thus far this season, we’ve seen this work. Most notably, on the MDZ – Richards – Nash – Gabby play against Boston in their match-up earlier this season. That truly was a beautiful goal and an UNBELIEVABLE touch by Richards.

    This breakout, if executed imperfectly, leaves a team open to a dangerous counter attack. If the pass shot up the middle, never makes it from F3 to one of the swooping wingers (F1 or F2), then we are very prone to a counter odd man rush. F1 and F2 are heading up ice. If the opposition reads the play and breaks it up successfully, they can easily have 3 forwards counter attacking with all 3 of our forwards caught on the wrong side of the redline and at least one of our defenseman with a very sizable gap to make up, when he comes to greet the odd man rush.

    And it is just a matter of time until we get bit here.

    My only other comment is that this is a somewhat fundamental breakout and I’m suprised it hasn’t been used, or maybe publicized at the NHL level. I played HS hockey at the JV level for a new england prep school (same league which John Quick and Brian Leetch emerged from). I remember our coach (now head coach @ Trinity College) implementing this breakout for us to use, so its not like this was developed by Torts. Kudos to him tho, for integrating it into the team’s systems and realizing early success with it. I just hope he’s also gone over the teams “oh shoot” reaction to when this leads to an odd man rush for the opposition.

    • Good points. After having many discussions with front office folk at the pro level, I can guarantee you Torts and any other systems oriented coach for that matter, has fail safe options and neutral/defensive zone regroup strategies.

      There’s a lot of in-depth stuff I can get into here, but these posts are meant to be introductory, so everyone can digest regardless of actual playing experience.

      Great name btw.

      • Thanks Suit. Always enjoy coming to the site and reading the content. #1 rangers blog for sure. It’s apparent that the contributors here have some solid hockey IQ.

  • I used something similar in Junior Hockey too. Difference was my team only had 2 lines that could actually do anything even remotely like a breakout.

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