Yesterday, I wrote about how the Washington Capitals are succeeding at getting the New York Rangers away from their rush-based offense, forcing them to play more of a cycle game. Generally speaking, the Caps have adjusted their breakouts and neutral zone play to limit passing and skating lanes, which forces the Rangers into more of a dump-and-chase offensive attack.
This was something the LA Kings did very well last June. With short and quick passes in the defensive zone on the breakout, the Caps are neutralizing the Rangers tenacious forecheck. By clogging the middle of the ice in the neutral zone, the Caps are forcing the Rangers to the outside and into dump-and-chase hockey.
Those slight adjustments have been made by Barry Trotz to, thus far, pretty good success. The one thing that has yet to be seen is how Alain Vigneault will react to those changes. Thus far, there haven’t been any changes in schemes to adjust for Trotz’s defensive strategy.
The Rangers rush-based offense has been limited to when they force turnovers at their own blue line, and connect on the ensuing stretch pass the other way. With the forecheck and neutral zone speed eliminated, the Rangers have just one weapon in their arsenal to catch teams up the ice. It’s worked twice, but that’s not enough in the playoffs.
This is where the initial concept of Vigneault being out-coached has surfaced: The Rangers haven’t been able to generate anything offensively. Part of it is due to Braden Holtby’s play, but it’s also been about being forced to get to the net and get bodies in front of the goalie, something the Rangers haven’t done that well thus far*.
*-Let’s not confuse the concept of high quality shots with getting to the net. You can get great chances without being in front of the net, and vice versa.
Aside from lineup decisions (Tanner Glass vs. James Sheppard, Martin St. Louis’ ice time, getting etc), which I really don’t want to get into, another aspect of Trotz out-coaching Vigneault is with matchups. In Game One, Trotz was able to get Alex Ovechkin out against Dan Boyle in key situations as the away coach. Twice it led to goals. While this is no slight on Boyle, who is receiving a lot of undeserved hate, he’s not the guy you want on the ice against Ovechkin.
In all honesty, I think those matchups cost the Rangers Game One. AV has been much better of ensuring that two of Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Klein, and Marc Staal are out there against Ovechkin lately. Without last change in Washington, Trotz is still able to get Ovi out there against Boyle/Keith Yandle every so often, but usually AV has been able to make a switch, at least in Game Three.
With two evenly matched teams, coaching is going to play a huge part in this series. It already has in Game One. AV is going to need to ensure he can get his favorable matchups. Perhaps more important now is finding a way to counter the Caps neutral zone play to generate more offense. The Rangers can’t win if they can’t score, and the Caps have done a good job limiting their rush chances.