AnalysisHockey Tactics

John Tortorella’s power play strategy

One of the biggest weaknesses the Rangers organization has faced the last several seasons has been a mediocre power play. Not since the 2009-10 season have the Rangers finished in the top half of the league in PP conversions. This season in particular, the Rangers power play was a disaster early on. With that said, there was quite a bit of turnover in the offseason, a truncated training camp and plenty of injuries. Just when the Rangers were looking to turn it around in mid-February, Rick Nash went down with an injury and missed four games.

Once Nash returned, not only have the Rangers been playing great 5-on-5 hockey, but the power play has improved as well. As Dave mentioned yesterday, prior to the Rangers win streak, they were sitting dead-last in the NHL with an 8% power play. Currently they are at 15.8% overall (22nd in the NHL), 17.6% at home (20th in the NHL) and have doubled their efficiency over the past seven games. As Dave reported, their 27% efficiency rate over this streak is good for second in the NHL.

But can all of that be attributed just to Rick Nash’s return? Here’s what I’ve noticed.

1-3-1 Umbrella

Prior to Nash’s return, the Rangers were exclusively rolling out an umbrella formation (seen on the bottom). Since Nash has returned, Sully has the Rangers rotating between an umbrella and a 1-3-1 formation. I believe this rotation of strategies was implemented to keep the players from being static. As I’ve written in the past, the umbrella power play requires some rotating of positions from the high players, as well as motion in the slot from the two players in the crease.

For some reason, moving screens and rotating didn’t come naturally from this setup. Now the Rangers first power play unit will alternate between the umbrella and the 1-3-1 forcing players to swap positions and responsibilities.

Switching to a 1-3-1 also changes the way the PK has to defend the slot. Against an umbrella, PK’s generally attack the points, almost playing man-on-man coverage. However, against the 1-3-1, which runs off the half-boards, PK’s tend to play a zone option or a collapsing box. By constantly switching formations, the opposition tends to over commit thus leading to defensive miscues.

The past few games PK’s have been collapsing in the slot leaving MDZ with room to wheel and rip shots from the point. As he starts getting shots through, they’ll attack him, but leave Nash open. If they decide to defend both, then they’re likely leaving Gabby open on the weak side, or one of the slot players like Cally or Stepan. Lots of options here. For more on the different power play strategies, read my post here.

So the Rangers power play is starting to hit its stride, but will this new strategy work long-term?

Who knows? The 1-3-1 really calls for a right-handed shot from that weak-side player. The graphic has a defensemen in that position, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a d-man. It can be a forward, so long as they are able to one-time shots. Sully has deployed Richie in that position, as well as Gabby. The problem with Gabby in that spot is he really isn’t a guy who’ll crank slappers. Though Richie has that ability, he’s a lefty, so those shots generally come from the outside.

For now it seems to be working. We know this team can beat anyone 5-on-5. Torts has proven his 2-1-2 forechecking, black and blueshirt style of hockey keeps Lundqvist from having to face 15-20 scoring chances every night like he had to during the Renney era. But the prize will come with consistency and a dependable power play. If we can continue play the right way, the sky’s the limit.

Here’s some video showing the new power play at work.

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  • “I believe this rotation of strategies was implemented to keep the players from being static.”

    Nice eye…in the end, it doesnt matter what “formation” PPs use, the key is movement. If you have guys moving on the PP it forces the PKers to think and react, which opens lanes.

    • Formations do matter. Spacing does matter. Player and puck movement also matter. If 4 guy are moving on 1 side and 1 is on the side Formation do matter. I’ve been calling for a 1 3 1 set up for two years now finally. The high slot is the outlet if MDZ gets pressure up top or the forwards on wings feel pressure. He’s positioning to receive a must pass for a shoot pass or pass to weak winger side down the put pressure on the D and moves the goalie. Attack,gives and go,strong side to weak side quick passes puck moves players move.

      • The problem was that two years ago, they didn’t have the skill guys required to run a 1-3-1. In those two years they’ve added Richards and Nash, which gives them that skill.

        • Agreed,Nash,B.Rich have upgraded the skill level. That doesn’t mean you don’t run a 1 3 1 it still puts your players in the best position to score regardless who they are. When they really get comfortable,not seemed rushed big things such happen. Excellent write up.

          • I was against the 1-3-1 a couple of years ago as well. We just didn’t have the horse to pull it off. MDZ wasn’t good enough. Stepan was too pass happy and Gabby was injurred. The timing just wasn’t right. With all of systems and tactics, you have to have the right personnel.

  • After being so poor for so long, it’s about time they changed things around, and now they are having some success, GREAT!!

    The only question I have is, why did it take this long?

    It’s become very clear that this team is very good with Nash in the line up, and very average without him. The man is a machine. We sure could use a Subban shot form the point though!

    • I think it’s a matter of getting used to it. Like all changes, they take time to adjust for it to become second nature. I think we are hitting that point now.

  • I think they also are using Richards differently on the PP. He seemed to like being the “quarterback” in the past, but I see him now more integrated in the passing attack. Not having to “make” something happen, but continually moving the puck, creating openings as the defense transitions their coverage.

    • Suit will correct me if I’m wrong here, but I think the rotation of strategies has the “QB” rotating as well. We see both Richards and MDZ at the top, which spreads out their responsibilities.

      • Since the pp got hot, Richards hasnt been on the top unit, atleast when they have scored. Its been Nash, MDZ, Gaborik, Stepan, and Callahan.

        Im not bashing Richards, or saying to trade him just stating the facts. In Buffalo when he got hurt both goals were scored (5on3 + 5on4) he was in the locker room. Then he sat out a few games and they scored. Sunday they scored with him on the second unit.

        The only thing I dont like about the pp (shouldnt complain about things working but I will) is the position of Stepan and Gaborik. I would like to see the flipped. If they would Gaborik would be able to take a one timer from Stepan and vise versa, currently they cant. Stepan can take one from Nash with the current set up, but they work the puck on the left side alot more then the right side. Thats the only complaint I have.

          • No, not jesting. The PP started heating up against TB before Richards got hurt. The 4 games prior Nash was hurt.

            The PP wasn’t going to stay that bad all year, and the surge came as Nash came back, not as Richards went out. Coincidental timing.

          • Correct Dave. Switching strategies changes the “QB” too. Nash now shares that burden with MDZ, which you can tell is opening things up for him. If they ever add that right handed shot on the weakside, they could have three PP QBs, which is what the 1-3-1 is intended to accomplish.

  • Was watching the London Knights play recently and I really loved their powerplay. Dale Hunter has his pointmen skating in sometimes and switching positions with the forward on the half boards. People are constantly shifting positions which confuses the D.

  • in the video you have in the post, how/why don’t neither Schultz nor Carlson challenge Cally in the crease? They essentially let him screen Holtby

    • They were playing a box, which is suppose to prevent shots from even getting through. If you’re gonna play the box, you have to block. The Rangers excel at that strategy.

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