Thoughts following the most recent elimination game

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The Rangers were able to keep their season going/salvage some dignity last night with a dramatic OT win over the Bruins at MSG.  My sister-in-law, who is an ER nurse, was working last night and catching bits and pieces of the game on a hospital TV.  Between the third period and OT, she posted on Facebook, “Ok Rangers, I kept my patient alive, you can keep this game alive!”.  It was a nice microcosm of the attitude of Ranger fandom, and her defiant faith was rewarded.  The Blueshirts still have quite the task ahead, but as they say, “one game at a time”.   Since we are heading back to Boston tomorrow, I thought I’d share some thoughts about the game and series in general…

  • Henrik Lundqvist was stellar again last night.  The funny thing about The King in this series is that he gets blasted for Game 2 (simply due to the number of goals allowed), but I thought he was hung out to dry big time in that game.  For me, if the Rangers fall say, one game short, the missed opportunity will have been Game 1.  Both of the regulation goals in that game were stoppable, and the complexion of this series could have been very different going to New York.
  • As Ranger fans, we tend to focus on our team’s shortcomings in the event of failure.  Let’s not forget in this instance, the Boston Bruins are a very good team.  They can roll four lines for 60 minutes and have plenty of system depth.  We didn’t have a Torey Krug or Matt Bartkowski to slot into the lineup when Marc Staal got hurt.  Many fans are going to lament the teams goal scoring woes, and seek to bolster the offense in the offseason, but I think quality depth is the number one priority at this stage.
  • With that said, as angry and frustrating as this round has been for me, I still try to remain cognizant of the fact that the Rangers are missing three important pieces.  There is no need to delve into how important Marc Staal is to this hockey club.  The front office spent 2, maybe 3 draft picks to acquire Ryane Clowe, who immediately turned the offense into a physical, forechecking machine.  And, although I’m not the world’s biggest Darrell Powe fan, we could sure use him on the penalty kill at the moment.
  • Ok, I’m going to talk about John Tortorella now.  I’m also going to preface this with the understanding that some people just aren’t going to click with his personality.  That’s completely fine, but let’s talk strictly about how he affects the team.  Derek Jeter is one of the most respected and idolized figures in this history of New York sports.  The New York media adore him, and he is one of the best quiet leaders in sports.  The problem I have with Derek and players of that ilk *coughCallycough*, is that they never actually tell you anything in their interviews.  They are wrought with cliché and team speak, saying all the right things while actually saying nothing at all.  Torts is the opposite of this.  I happen to find it refreshing and honest, even if his delivery and tone leave something to be desired.
  • It must have been an incredibly difficult decision to scratch Brad Richards last night.  Around here, we have the luxury of being able to make cold, objective decisions about a player’s performance or role on the team.  Torts has to manage the egos and relationships amongst 23 grown men.  Brad Richards is a close personal friend of Torts; they won a Cup together, and Richie came to New York to play for Torts.  Easy to make that call from here, but most coaches wouldn’t have the moxie to pull the trigger.
  • Torts also knows what the media does in these situations.  As I’m sure his postgame presser has gone viral by now, I can respect him being able to diffuse (well, deflect) that situation and take the spotlight off Richie himself.  Torts clearly is a magnet for media strife/controversy due to his gruff style, but he clearly has a deep respect for the player and the person, and he wasn’t going to let that be trivialized by some beat writer looking for page views.
  • Now, with regard to his tactics, I think some tweaks need to be made, specifically in the defensive zone.  I think the wings need to start being positioned higher, which will allow for more pressure on opposing point men and less time pinned in the defensive zone.  Additionally, this will aid in the breakout, as they will force those same point men to back off into the neutral zone as the ice is stretched out north/south when the Rangers’ d-men control the puck.  Right now, the opposition knows that the Ranger forwards aren’t breaking into the neutral zone for the long outlet because they are so low in the zone.  This emboldens them to put more pressure on the puck carrier and limits the options on the breakout.
  • There has been a lot of talk in the comments section about what kind of effect Tort’s personality has on the room as a motivating tool, so I thought I would address it directly.  In a vacuum, a positive, accessible coach is generally going to be a better motivator than an abrupt, brutally honest type.  However, there is an intangible that goes on inside a room that gets left someone unaccounted for.  There are some coaches who you just want to play hard for.  You crave their approval and all that comes with being the guy who contributed.  It’s a very difficult effect to explain if you haven’t experienced it, but no matter how frustrated the fans get, the boys in the room seem to have a deep respect and desire to play for their coach.
  • Nash-Stepan-Kreider, who knew?

Ok, so this kind of turned into a Torts post, with some actual player analysis mixed in.  If you think about it though, the Rangers just played a real live hockey game, avoided the sweep, and got something of an overtime monkey off their backs.  Yet, about 75% of this post has been about Torts.  What better way to take pressure off of your players and keep them loose for the next one, than that?

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  • Thanks for the read, Justin. I agree whole heartedly with your 3rd to last bullet (about the defensive zone). It is so blatantly obvious that the system isn’t working like it has in the past. We haven’t blocked as many shots as past years and we haven’t cut passing lanes down either. I honestly think we’ve been victimized of letting a low boards/corner pass to the weak d-man through 2-3 times each game. When we do take that away, we don’t force them to overexert themselves on the cycle because they know they always have an open d-man on the strong side boards. It’s next to infuriating and probably my biggest complaint of the team from a systems perspective (probably moreso than the powerplay, believe it or not) dating back the past couple of seasons.

    What are the chances Torts introduces something different next year and moves on from this low zone collapse?

    • I think the organization should do a detailed personnel evaluation. I don’t advocate for changing the systems themselves, but tweaking them to address shortfalls in execution and strengths and weaknesses of the current squad. There has been a lot of turnover since last season, and I think that alone warrants a closer look at the minutia of the systems themselves.

      • Fair enough. Given that they haven’t executed well this year (probably due to turnover) it should be looked at. It seemed like both teams have been scoring from the blueline frequently, namely Washington. Oates seemed to tweak how the Caps generated offense. Keep throwing pucks through and use our bodies as well as theirs for screens, deflections and quirky goals. If the point men have all day to get those looks, continually throwing pucks down low @ shin pads and such, they will eventually get their bounces.

        Would you argue that it makes things more difficult on Lundqvist? Let the man see the puck for crying out loud.

        • I agree with you Hatrick. And, yes it does make things more difficult on Hank. I know I’d much rather have a clear shooting lane with contained coverage than have to fight through my own guys to identify those lanes.

  • What I don’t like about Torts’ system the most, is how the D backs off on an even man rush. If it’s two on two, Bruins exploit that by having a forward with the puck skate parallel to the blue line and the other forward cross behind him for a drop pass and an easy opportunity for a shot or a cross-ice pass to the third forward or a D. Boston stands up on the blue line forcing the Rangers to dump the puck in more often than not.

    • I think if I’m understanding you correctly Jeff, that’s on the back checking forwards. If the D has made the call that they cannot hold the line, backing off to the top of the circles as the opposition enters the zone makes sense. That drop pass, or weak side look should be on the center or appropriate side wing coming back.

      • The problem with that is opposing forwards comes in with speed when the Rangers forwards are up ice after an aggressive forecheck. Still, even if it’s two on two, they give up the zone entry too easily.

  • Justin,

    Like your post. I’ve watched a lot of hockey interviews and they all say the same things no matter what team they are on. It is what the PR dept. coaches them to do. Torts is the PR dept.’s worst nightmare.

      • First of all nice job Justin, some good points made.

        Have you ever noticed that every player that comes to NY have to state “It’s an honor to play for an original six team”? If I heard that once, I heard it a 1000 times, they are coached to respond this way!!

  • Good post. Justin what letter grade would you give Torts based on his systems and what letter grade would you give Torts based on his personality/philosophies?

    • Thanks Bob. From the perspective of evaluating the viability of the systems themselves, I would say B+/A-. I love the 2-1-2 forecheck, but the low zone collapse leaves something to be desired for me. I think they have the strength in goal to employ a hybrid man coverage system and block less shots.

      With regard to his personality/hockey philosophies, solid A. I think he has a profound understanding of the game, and his analysis of any given situation is generally extremely thoughtful and intelligent. I personally find his honesty/frustration with the media to be extremely entertaining. I understand these guys (beat writers) have a job to do, but they frequently ask stupid questions or those in sole pursuit of headlines. He has a job to do as well: win hockey games. I’d much rather he do that than make nice with Brooksie.

  • Justin,

    Nice post. You, Dave and The Suit do a really nice job here.

    I agree with your views on team depth, but I wonder (with the loss of Gaborik and Richards) if we need a bit more scoring as well. The offseason will be interesting — this looks like a team that is getting closer to being a real cup contender.

    • I agree, Rockdog. And thanks for the kind word. I think this team, while very good, is still incomplete. I have to think Slats would look to the fringes for goal scoring at a discount, while trying to beef up defensive depth and manage the cap accordingly. If Pitt or Boston can’t lock up Malkin or Bergeron, things could get interesting after next season, as well.

      • Justin,

        Boy, would either of those guys make a great addition to the team — I didn’t even think of that. Although I am stll hoping that Miller, Kreider and Zucs can add a bunch of scoring punch to the team next year. BTW, do you think that Dylan McIlrath will make the Rangers next year?

        • I have high hopes for Kreider and Miller myself. I think they could add to a solid homegrown core as far as scoring goes. Malkin or Bergeron would be that piece that put them over the top.

          I think its very possible McIlrath could be ready for next season, but I think the consensus is that he will start the year in Hartford and be up at some point during the year.

          • I can say that Boston will do everything in its power to lock up Bergeron. He’s the heart and soul of that team. Don’t look for him to be available any time soon.

          • Your right, but something that we should think of before we jump from the frying pan, into the fire. Bergeron has a concussion history, and I wouldn’t want to sign him to a very long term agreement based on this point alone! Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see him on our team, great defensivily, and good scoring as well, but the health issue worries me. Just a thought!

      • What Igor in blue, you mean I’ll have to root for him? That could be a good aquisition should that happen!

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