AnalysisHockey Tactics

Diagnosing NYR’s PK troubles

The image that keeps on giving
It’s white board time.

For many years now on this site we’ve talked about the Rangers mediocre power play, what’s wrong with it, and what we’d do to fix it. Fortunately for the Rangers, recently history suggests that you can win a Stanley Cup without an elite power play. The LA Kings proved this twice (sad face), as have the Bruins and the Penguins.

The penalty kill is a different story. None of the clubs mentioned above had a PK rate under 83% in their Cup winning seasons; same goes for the Chicago Blackhawks and their runs.

This season the Rangers are only killing off 77% of their penalties, which is good for 26th in the NHL. That does not bode well for any team trying to compete for a Cup, let alone one currently in the top half of the League in minor penalties. And no, Eric Staal doesn’t help you there.

In order for the Rangers to have a fighting chance this postseason, the PK needs to get fix. Here’s three issues the Rangers need to address to fix the kill.

1) Face-offs

As I’ve said on many a blog, it’s not just about results, it’s about the process. Despite what #fancystats folks will tell you, winning face-offs is good process, especially on the penalty kill. Right now, the Rangers are not good on the draw. To date, they’ve only won 47% of their face-offs on the PK.

Dom Moore takes the most draws on the PK and is winning 48% of them. Derek Stepan is next in line and only wins 40% of face-offs. Internally, there aren’t a lot of solutions here. I’m not a fan of Stepan on the PK in general and perhaps Oscar Lindberg would be a better option, as he’s decent on the draw (close to 50% all situations) and doesn’t get much PK time.

2) D-Zone Systems

Diamond Press

In today’s NHL, most teams are employing some variation of the 1-3-1 (pictured above). The Rangers choose to counter the 1-3-1 with an aggressive version of the diamond.

The Rangers set up their diamond similar to how they run their D-zone system at even-strength, in that some skaters play man-on-man, while others play zone. As I’ve stated in the past, I don’t think this is a good system for the Rangers based on the personnel they have, especially on defense.

I digress.

Anyway, so in the Rangers version of the diamond, D1 covers the strong-side boards and is free to pressure the puck. F1 covers the strong-side point. F2 covers the high slot, but is also free to pressure the puck. Finally, D2 covers the low slot and is tasked with cutting off those lateral passes just beyond the goalkeepers stick.

The issue with this PK is similar to our issues at even-strength, our Ds are still hesitating with when to pursue vs. when to contain. These mix ups are causing us to routinely give up those low lateral plays, which are death for a goalie.

Cases in point:

This one’s against Chicago. Low lateral pass. We don’t block it. Goal.

2016-02-17 22_18_39






This one (above) was against the Devils. Same play.

Look, I’m not just cherry-picking gifs. If you look up our PK stats from you’ll see that Girardi and Staal are giving up 18 and 21 (respectively) ‘high danger scoring chances’ per 60 mins of ice time on the PK. Meanwhile, McDonagh is only giving up 14 and change and McIlrath only 9 in a very small sample size, but you already know where I’m going with this right?

3) Entries

Passive Entry

Finally, one of the biggest issues on the PK is opposition entries. Here, the Rangers employ a retreating box, which is designed to force the other team to dump the puck in.

In theory, I get why the Rangers would use this tactic, as most teams have a smaller chance at getting a shot on goal after a dump-in vs. attacking the blueline with speed. The problem is this strategy puts the onus on your defenders, since someone has to retrieve a dump-in. And we’ve already highlighted the issues with our defenders.

Instead, I’d rather AV run a T-forecheck, which is what Torts employed, or some other more aggressive tactic in the neutral zone that would put the onus on our forwards to create turnovers, but that’s just me.

In the end, there are some common themes here. We keep running into the same issues whenever we talk about the path towards the Cup. The solutions are simple; either stick with it and hope things pan out, trade folks, or make tactical adjustments. You know where I stand.

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  • Really good post. Last night Sam and Joe were raving about Eric Staal’s face off ability. So going back to your first point on face offs, wouldn’t help to have Eric Staal on the PK?

  • I think a healthy Rick Nash would help our PK. And you didn’t mention Boyle’ s numbers, I bet they’re awful. He needs to be nailed to the bench during PK. Why not give McIlrath more time, since his numbers albeit in a small sample are excellent.

  • Great write up. The one critique I have is this…Our Special teams coach is not very special. The special teams this year have truly sucked. Period. Worst in 5 years if not longer. PP is been better than PK…but not much…how is it you can see this issues and the coach can’t?

  • I’m an AV supporter because his record here and elsewhere has been exemplary. But facts are facts. The PP woes I can accept. It was even worse under Torts. We just don’t have real good PP players for some reason. The PK has been terrific under AV as it was under Torts, and was great at the start of this season. But once the “Holiday Crash” came and our whole game went to hell in a handbasket, the PK collapsed too. While there’s been some improvement recently (mostly due to the fact that we’ve done a better job of staying out of the box), what we have on the PK is not anywhere good enough for a sustained playoff run.

    You are absolutely right Suit. You can succeed in the SC Playoffs with a weak PP. You have NO chance whatsoever with a poor PK. I’m not going to kill the coach for not fixing it……yet. But it is concerning and he MUST fix it soon, otherwise we are out early and that will certainly be on him.

  • Because AV has to be loyal to his vets to the point where it hurts the team. Mcllrath is all heart, team first guy. Yet AV puts him out to dry , makes him play the wing, knowing full well Boyle would have been better suited to do so. I am a huge Mcllrath fan, you see him blast away with his body checks last night, then top it off with a toe to toe with Jarred Boll. The Kid is going to be a solid, feared defense man for many years to come. He is only 24, scarey to think of his development 2 or 3 years from now.

      • Sadly Jerry, I think you may be right. I suspect Vigneault and Gorton do not see eye-to-eye on McIlrath and Vigneault has won the battle this year, because he gets to select the roster each night. But next year Gorton will not be providing Vigneault with an option of Dan Boyle.

        For better or worse, McIlrath will have to make his mark next season.

        I think during the upcoming playoffs though we will see the fallacy of this player management; a confident McIlrath with another 15-20 games experience under his belt would have solidified the team, in my view, beyond what Boyle can accomplish.

        But, what do I know, Vigneault has a President’s Trophy and I do not 🙂

        • AD, do you like to make up these mythical battles within the organization to amuse yourself? 🙂

          First it was Gorton, who will defy his boss Sather and right all the wrongs of the past at the trade deadline….until he didn’t.

          Now we have AV and Gorton at odds. Perhaps, but you do know that it has been strongly rumored that it was Gorton who persuaded Sather NOT to hire Messier, and instead go with AV. If true, AV was and is “his guy” as much if not more than Sather’s guy. So while I’m sure the GM and coach don’t agree on everything, the idea this is some power struggle between the two seems a bit far fetched.

          McIlrath has played 29 games. He’ll probably get 5-7 more. 35 games in his rookie season for a defenseman with the learning curve involved at that position is a very good beginning for him. He will learn from the experience and if he’s good enough, he’ll be top 6 next year. If not, he’ll be gone. Plain and simple.

          • King of unsubstantiated rumors? Oh I’m so hurt. 🙂

            Typical response sadly from a person who all too often locks himself into a false narrative (see Keenan) that, to the best of my knowledge, has NO basis whatsoever in fact (has it ever been reported, or even specualted, that the GM and the coach do not see eye to eye on McIlrath or anything else? What are we basing that on?).

            Yes, Carp is the source in this case. You may or may not like his perspective, but he’s a valid source.

            Let me ask you something, Doctor. You met with patients for years, right? Dug in deep with many of them. Got to know them pretty well. If I were to ask you about one of them and said “describe the relationship said person has with his boss” you could probably give me a good insight. You may or may not be correct, because no one truly knows the truth other than the parties involved. But you would be a more reliable background source than someone who doesn’t know the people involved at all, wouldn’t you say?

            Now, if you actually read what I wrote, I was careful to say “IF true”. And, I even used the word “perhaps” when considering whether AD’s perepsctive might indeed be accurate. AD, like yourself, is a smart guy. I may not agree with the two of you all the time, but perspectives come in many forms and I respect that, so I didn’t want to dismiss the possibility completely out of hand. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time that a coach and GM did not see eye to eye on personnel (again, see Keenan and Smith).

            We can irresponsibly speculate about anything. I guess I could say I believe the reason that McIlrath doesn’t play more is that he doesn’t work hard, his teammates really don’t respect him, the coaches think he’s not very talented, and he’s untradeable because no team wants him. Except none of that is likely accurate. But those statements are about as valid as the speculation about Gorton and AV not seeing eye to eye, right?

            I’m in no position to know for sure on AV and Gorton. None of us are. But it’s more than valid to point out that a professional (like yourself when discussing our mythical patient) who has covered the team for years, has interviewed both parties involved and the people closest too them professionally, has a perspective that is far more likely to be accurate than someone just pulling something out of their rear end. Would you not agree?

      • Hey Jerry, I echo your words, and share the views of fellow blogger AD. I think Gorton with his Bruin background , loves what Mcllrath brings to the table. A set of steel ba***, which has been lacking with this team for the last 2 years. AV would prefer the Lady Bing finalist as the teams 6 the defenseman. The kid has made an impression, he has become a fan favorite, and stands up for his teammates. He has made excellent strides in his play this year. I really feel we have the second coming of Darrien Hatcher in our grasp!!!

    • Saw people Qing the utility of the McIlrath hits & fight, but in my view the team started to play with more passion after that. If you are a player how could you not get fired up by something like that. The last few games our hit numbers are way down & that’s a problem. In my view HITS=Intensity of play.

    • Bobby, you are the ultimate McIlrath Minion.

      Aren’t you overstating things just a bit here? AV did not hang the kid out to dry, and you know it. Why would Boyle have been the better choice for the 4th line? Makes so sense, except you simply have blind loyalty to your boy and if he isn’t playing, then AV must have it in for him. Please.

      The fight last night was fun, but that stuff won’t be happening in Game 7 of the playoffs, or any playoff game for that matter.

      You claim that by not playing McIlrath, AV is hurting the team. What do you base that on? Certainly not the record. The Rangers are 24-7-3 with McIlrath sitting, and 13-13-3 with him playing. Now, in fairness, much of that difference came during the Rangers five week holiday meltdown, and clearly anyone watching knows he was one of the few bright lights during that dismal stretch. So let’s look at it more fairly, and just look at the record since the turnaround began on 12/22. Interestingly, McIlrath has played almost half of those 28 games. The Rangers are 10-4-1 with McIlrath sitting, and 8-4-1 with him playing.

      What it clearly demonstrates is that the Rangers are winning with or without McIlrath in the lineup. So your claim that AV is hurting the team by “being loyal to his vets” can’t be substantiated at all. In fact, it’s false.

      Now that being said, I like the kid and think he should play more, especially with many back to back games coming up this month. I think the kid has proven he can hold his own. And Boyle will be better and more effective if he gets rest now and is fresh for the playoffs. But DMC has not yet proven he is a better option in a Game 7 against the best the NHL has to offer. Most every coach in that situation will go with trusted veterans with so much on the line. AV is no different.

      As for what he will be down the road, who knows? Solid? I agree. Feared? I very much doubt anyone is afraid of McIlrath or any other player on the NHL level in this day and age. You are fixated with his size in a league where today the best teams win with skill and speed first and foremost. You think the Blackhawks or Bolts wish they had a DMC? I doubt it.

  • I think our PK is very passive out there. Sometimes you see all four guys stationary with their collective eyes glued to the puck carrier & oblivious to all else. There is an absence of attention to the weak side point and the front of the net, mostly by D2/F2 who are just not paying attention. This is not abt the PK but I was struck last night by McIlrath coming back into the D-zone on one play. He had his head on a swivel checking out where people were and this is something not enough players do, esp on the PK. It’s like there is no trust there & they all converge on the puck carrier & strong side & neglect their own responsibilities. AV just lacks in problem solving skills, putting out the same people with the same result. If he was open to experience he would use a guy like Kreider who can cover a lot of ground with his speed just like Hagelin. Stalberg is another guy with good wheels.

  • I don’t think AV has used his personnel well this year on the PK. First of all, the best forward PK-wise the Rangers have is Mats Zuccarello hands down. Yet we haven’t really seen him at all. Last year, Glass and Fast both posted good numbers — and I believe they mostly played together. This year, Fast is playing on the top unit with Moore and it just isn’t working.

    Truth is that while there is some idea that the Rangers are short penalty killers, the real problem is that Moore-Fast-McDonagh-Girardi are giving up way too many goals. The first PK unit just isn’t getting it done.

  • “recently history suggests that you can win a Stanley Cup without an elite power play”

    This is true but doesn’t excuse the Ranger’s ineptitude on the PP until they win a Cup.

    If your PP is a significant threat then the other team will be more worried about staying out of the box than making borderline defensive plays that might inspire a whistle. Also, scoring on the PP can be an enormous momentum changer if you’re trailing and as big a deflation for the opposition if you’re looking to add on to a lead. I don’t care for this whistling past the graveyard about PP ineptitude. Its a problem that can and should be fixed particularly te bad entries, lack of puck support and lack of movement.

    As for the PK its been abysmal for the exact reasons you cite – allowing the lateral passes to the unguarded weak side over and over again. It seems that the Rangers’ coaching staff is kind of weak on learning from experience. The worst example I remember was a game against the Caps where they tried the pass 2 or 3 times in a row until they finally got he puck to an unguarded (of course) Ovie who buried it (naturally).

    • You are not wrong RR. I just find it curious that so often in the NHL, teams that are really good 5×5 somehow are not good on the PP, and vice versa. I saw a stat recently where it said the Devils were among the worst 5×5 teams, yet among the best on the PP. It makes no sense to me, but it seems to happen a lot.

      Last year, you and I debated this. I showed you stats that said the successful playoff teams were the best 5×5 and on the PK, while often the best PP teams didn’t even make the playoffs. This year, there seems to be a change. The best PP teams are, in fact, the best teams. Interesting.

      Maybe the addition of E-Staal and the return of Nash helps the PP to some extent. I’m just looking for competency here. I’ve given up on excellence. The PK is an absolute must to be fixed. No chance to win in the playoffs with a poor PK. It needs to be not just good, but great.

      From the glimmer of hope department–

      Rangers PP last nine games–6-20 30%
      Rangers PK last six games–14-16 87%.

      Maybe, just maybe? We will know more after these next three games.

  • I personally think a lot of the issues on the PK have to do with the absence of Rick Nash. He’s one of the best PKers in the game. He has very strong puck skills and digs those pucks out along the walls well. He usually gets the job done.
    I disagree about Stepan being on the PK but I don’t think he should be playing the middle. He certainly has no business taking the Faceoff when down a man.

  • I think the pk is missing nasher since he has been out guys are not picking up guys you can’t have it tonight against the pens or against the caps tomorrow first you have sid and geno tonight and you have ovi.

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