Hockey Tactics

Simple system tweaks to help the Rangers as the season closes

This is what happens when you don’t defense.

The Rangers are at a crossroads. Specifically Alain Vigneault, Ulf Samuelsson, and Scott Arniel are at a crossroads. They will not change deployment. They cannot change the roster. The only thing left for them to change is the system in which the Rangers play. Change it to something that is not only easy to learn, but easy for an aging team –specifically aging blue liners that can’t skate anymore– to adapt on limited notice.

There are three areas the Rangers’ coaching staff needs to make adjustments to get the most out of their team. They aren’t major tweaks. Just minor ones that are easy to implement and easier for skilled/veteran players to adapt to. These areas that need adjustments are the penalty kill, defensive zone coverage, and breakouts.

Penalty Kill

We’ve discussed the penalty kill a few times on the blog (here and here). The diagnosis is simple: They allow too many high quality shots because they are allowing the cross ice pass. That pass has set up countless goals, a pair of which are highlighted in the second post, in addition to the one above.

Diamond Press
Diamond Force

As Suit noted in his post a few weeks ago, the Rangers play a diamond force hybrid PK, which is basically a man/zone system. D1 and F2 play man, F1 and D2 play zone. As players age, they are unable to move and react because their bodies slow down, thus any system that has man coverage as a primary coverage strategy will be less effective.

Wedge +1

A simple fix is a box/diamond hybrid. But I’m with Suit that the best fix is a wedge+1 (all three detailed here). The wedge+1, pictured above, is similar to the diamond force, but easier to execute. The main difference is that three players remain low in a triangle formation, while a forward pressures the puck carrier. It’s the same premise that the Rangers want to force the issue, but this is far easier to execute and limits the cross ice pass options.

Defensive Zone Coverage

This is a horse we may have beaten to death a bit, but it’s very clear that the Rangers simply cannot keep up with the hybrid overload/man coverage scheme that AV runs. This is very similar to the penalty kill, as it requires quick thinking, quicker decision making, a continuous knowledge of outlets for the offense, and most importantly knowing when it’s your turn to play man coverage.

This is a very complicated system, but this team pulled it off the previous two years, albeit not with great consistency. What has changed this season is simple: The Rangers are older and slower, and the NHL is moving towards a speed game. Those factors mean the Rangers are now getting hurt by dead weight in this system, and the guys who can play it simply can’t cover enough.

Strong side overload

The solution is again very simple. Switch to a hybrid overload/zone defense. Not much changes for the Rangers. They would still overload the strong side, as pictured above. You can see that the weak side point becomes open here, which is the obvious weakness and trade-off for playing the overload. It creates pressure, like the current system, so that’s what you’re expecting.

Low Zone Collapse - Behind Net

When switching to zone, one adjustment Suit has brought up (and I agree) is to have the box expand to challenge point shots. This way we are not collapsing wingers too low, which what we saw at various points during the Torts years.

Now the bug difference between a overload/zone hybrid and man,  is that it eliminates the complicated shifts, and gives up the outside shot. When the puck is back along the boards, shift back to the overload. Many teams (Kings, Pens to name a few) deploy this strategy to great success. It’s simple, aggressive in the right spots, and limits exposure of players that can’t quite skate anymore.


Perhaps the most maddening aspect of the games we’ve been watching is that the Rangers don’t break out anymore. They simply chip the puck up the glass at the first sign of pressure. I’m pretty sure we’ve seen them do this with no pressure at all. The premise here is that they chip the puck past the first wave of pressure on the forecheck, and then use their speed to pick up the puck through the neutral zone. This worked very well last year.

There are so many reasons why it’s not working this year, but I’m going to focus on the fact that it’s not even remotely close to a controlled breakout. This is the equivalent of dump and chase hockey, which we don’t even have the type of wingers to play that way anymore.

Honestly the fix here is even simpler than the ones mentioned above. Just go back to Hockey 101. If you don’t have an outlet, cycle it back to your safety net, which should be your defensive partner. I have no idea why the safety net shifted from “keep possession” to “give the puck up.”


The Rangers are struggling in three aspects of the game. And while deployment and roster construction are still issues, they are issues that will not get addressed until next season. Since that is the case, the coaching staff –in which most of the on-ice troubles can be pinned– need to make adjustments. This is what they are paid to do. This is their job. These are the three areas that, if fixed, might make the Rangers a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference. Because if they don’t make adjustments, and they continue to play as is, this team is done in the first round, no matter the opponent.

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    • It not about the limitations old old dogs, but about the ability to adapt. Flexibility in behavior is the hallmark of intelligence. So like the dinosaurs those who regard change as a fate worse than death, move ahead monolithically, blind even to their own dinosaurian moves.

      • AV has had 3 years of a piss-poor power-play and a 4th line that contains Tanner Glass. Has he adapted in these situations, or has he kept using players and a system that does not provide superior results?

  • Dave, first of all, I love ya and I read this blog almost every day. You’re very knowledgeable and I respect your opinion, as I do almost all of the posters here. But you all know me, and you know I don’t throw my TV out the window after every bad goal. Every team gives up bad goals. Everyone said they were done last week as they left for the West Coast last week. Well, they got three points against three tough teams in four nights. Not bad; I think every one of us would have taken that as they got on the plane. Well, OK, four or five would have been better. Duh! And- They were within like 30 seconds and a bad bounce off Marc Staal’s leg from three or four points against Detroit and Pittsburgh last weekend. They got one. Too bad.

    So let’s all take a deep breath. Now don’t you feel better? Good. Now then- let’s look at the big picture. What we’re going to do is take a team in the last week of March, 20 guys who have been through 72 games in six months, and we’re going to change the system that they play. With ten games to play before the playoffs. Minor changes, you are correct, but changes nonetheless. And- we have a coach who has coached at the highest level in the hockey world for fifteen years. Do you think that maybe, just maybe, he’s looked at some film, or taken some time at practice to look at some of these things?

    Maybe the players just can’t perform these tasks all the time, for 60 minutes, against other top-level hockey players night after night. I get it, everybody gets it, Dan Boyle is old. I’m sure AV knows it too. Everyone wants Eric Staal and Dan Girardi drawn, and quartered, and all the quarters keel-hauled, after every mistake. And there have been some, to be sure. The Messiah, Dylan McIlrath, is injured. Everyone makes fun of me, and gives me Thumbs Down’s all day, every time I say the the other teams pay their players as well as the Rangers. Well, the fact of the matter is they do. The team was unable to pick up a top defender before the trade deadline; management apparently thought the prices asked were too high. We can all squeal and cry and complain if we want, but this is the team we have going into April, for better or worse.

    Now look. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and I’m sure you’ll get some today. But I’m entitled to mine as well. I like the team we have; tell me, what choice do I have? I’ve been a Ranger fan for 50 years, and I don’t intend to change and start watching the Islanders. I personally think the coach and the staff has looked at these things and are by and large making the correct decisions based on the roster they have. They may win the Cup, they may lose to Pittsburgh in four games. But if you think I, or any of us, knows what’s going to happen the second week of April, you’re wrong. I’ve been a Syracuse University sports fan for my entire life as well, and if anyone told you they knew this basketball team was going to the Sweet Sixteen, they’re lying. None of us knows what will happen; I personally intend to just enjoy the ride.

    I’m too old to do anything else. As my granddaughter would say, JMTC. (Just My Two Cents). Have a good day and week, everyone. Regards- orange

    • I’d like to agree with you, but every team makes adjustments, and when a team has you figured out, well you have to change something, don’t you???????

      I’ve been hard on AV, and the entire coaching staff, but if we leave things status quo, well, we are in deep tapioca!!!!!!!!

      Bottom line, things need to be simplified to correct for our faults. Zone defense would help, the foot speed on defense just isn’t there, why torture us with the existing system??? If we have to loose, I want to go down fighting, not giving up, and that would be the case if we do nothing!!!!

    • Finally rational thought about the coach the decisions and most importantly the roster!!! I’ve been waiting for common sense to appear.

  • I’ve pulled back a lot on posting because, well, it is what it is. And I am simply enjoying the team as much as possible.

    But what I stated in December, January and February remains true: Jeff Gorton is the most important asset within the organization right now.

    He made his first move at the trade deadline, and it was a mistake. Not a fatal one but a mistake nonetheless.

    The real work begins this summer. And the Alain Vigneault clock has begun ticking. I know, I know, what a nice winning record during the regular season.

    JMTC 🙂

    • I hope the hell your right, he is too predictable, and non flexible. That my friends are facts, and he brought us close, but that only counts in horseshoes !!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Ummm….AD- the team has been to the Finals once and the Conference Finals once in Vigneault’s two years at the Garden. To the best of my knowledge those were playoff wins. We’re giving up on this spring and on to the summer already? If and when the team loses a playoff series, I’ll start thinking about the summer. Not until.

      Just asking. Regards- orange

      • But you won’t concede that the man is downright inflexible, and dead set in his ways???????????

        Just asking back. Have a great day my friend !!!!!!!!!!!

        • Walt- personally I don’t know if he’s inflexible or not, I’m not at practice every day. And I’m not smart enough to figure out all of those diagrams, and whatever is a hybrid overload/zone defense. Maybe all of you other posters are smarter than me; that could very well be. A couple of things I know- this team has been to the Final Four both of the last two springs. We were all moaning about every loss last spring also. And the spring before that. And the spring before that. And the….

          The other thing I know is that coaches at the highest level, whatever the sport, get paid a lot of money to figure this stuff out, otherwise they wouldn’t be where they are. And I’m quite confident that Alan Vigneault is smart enough to have looked at doing some things to try to get the best out of his players, and play to their strengths. Yes the power play is a problem, although better lately. And no, the defenders are not all Hall-of-Famers. But do we have to break down every single play every night? When Dan Girardi gives away the puck, I’m quite sure that that coach sees that on film and tries to work on that in practice.

          Enjoy your day, my friend.Regards- orange

          • Orange

            I’m not at the practice either, nor do I claim to know it all, but I recall when my son Rick was 1 1/2 years old, and he would go close to the stove, my wife, or I would say hot, hot. Well that meant nothing until one day he touch the surface of the stove, his hand got burnt a little, and there after when we said hot, the boy ran like hell away from the stove.

            He learned a lesson, AV doesn’t seem to have that ability, he insists on putting a round peg in a square hole, with the same negative results, so he may qualify as one of Doc Paul’s dinosaurs ????????????

      • Hey OrangeMike, thanks for the reply/question.

        Excellent point; my post may across as me dismissing those accomplishments but I assure you I do not. I just see and weigh them differently than some. Also, part of my comment about the clock ticking on Vigneault relates to a view of why he was brought in, and this roster needing to a multi-year personnel restructuring to actually win the Cup. That may not be why Vigneault was brought in, or suitable to his skills. I can elaborate if you’d like but I sense you are making a point rather than wanting me to do that, so I get your point, thanks.

        I am not giving up on this spring. I am being realistic though, in my view obviously, on what expectations should be. I enjoy the team and think we have a chance at making things exciting but I keep my expectations aligned with my team assessment as best as possible.

        As for winning the Cup, “this dog don’t hunt.”

        I still like my dog though. He just needs more training 🙂

    • please explain how after 9 games you can already judge the trade for staal when staal was brought here for his post season play and they gave up next to nothing to get him!

      • A lot of folks like to say the trade “cost next to nothing” or “didn’t cost much” but I disagree sharply with that. Two, 2nd round picks plus a prospect who, if drafted today, is perceived as a low 2nd round pick.

        The Rangers, more than most teams, also have a very good record drafting in the 2nd-5th rounds so, as I’ve advocated in the past, we’re supposed to play into our strengths and accumulate picks, rather than trade them away. That isn’t always possible but surely most would agree we have little in the way of remaining draft picks and a prospect pool.

        Finally, I would say Eric Staal’s performance alone this year shows the trade was costly. He’s had a rough year and no player can simply turn on the switch and all of a sudden perform at a level sharply higher. He is declining in performance and, frankly, hasn’t been anything to rave about since we acquired him. All we did was acquire a player to fill the role for Kevin Hayes who has been very inconsistent this year.

        It’s a subjective thing Ken; it all depends on how you value picks to a large degree, versus Staal today and the next few months. I am not expecting much from Staal over this time period.

  • Man, I love that Hank gif!

    Dave, where did you and Suit find that Wedge +1 system? I’ve never seen or heard of that before. How is the +1 supposed to cover the entire blue line? Does the +1 interchange with the F at the top of the triangle?

    Personally, I find the problem the Rangers have on the PK is simply all 4 players not being in sync. The glaring issue I see is poor decision making down low, which leads to poor timing on the rotations and slides, which leaves that back door cutter wide open. In other words, when the crease D vacates the crease to pressure/cover the puck handler on the goal line extended, the weak side PK’er has to rotate down to the crease, filling the void, and that just hasn’t been happening this year.

    It’s possible that lack of rotation has become problematic because the crease D is making a poor decision and becomes too aggressive and leaves the crease too often to pressure the puck when it’s at or below the goal line. The opposition can’t score from behind the goal, so there’s no reason to pressure the puck there, just settle in to a 4v4, deny any entry passes, and allow any perimeter passes. If the crease D is leaving when he’s not supposed to it catches the weak side PK’er off guard and he reacts late with his slide. That late reaction means poor Hank is all alone to face a driving attacker or a wide open, point blank, one-timer.

    • The +1 rotates depending on puck location, but they pressure up top to force turnovers. A lot of teams run it, or a variation of it.

      • Ah, ok, that makes much more sense. The way you described it sounded like one man was skating like a banshee from point to point, which is impossible, while his teammates sit in a tight triangle down low.

        I think the Rangers ran that recently. I remember the Fwds moving ‘on a string’ in a ‘V’ pattern, alternating pressure depending on which point had the puck.

  • Remember how Hags “sucked” on the PP, according to Torts? Well, according to me, Moore & Fast “suck” on the PK this year. I cringe when those two are out there. Moore & Hags were great together but Moore & Fast are not. But you know AV, he’ll just continue to play them no matter. Refusing to change your behaviour in the face of poor results is not just inflexibility, it’s arrogance as well.

    • Last season, Fast was on the ice for 1 goal against on the PK and that was a shot from Ovechkin that deflected off his arm if I remember correctly. He went the whole year without being on for a PP goal against until that one. It’s the defenseman not doing their job. They don’t read and react properly anymore for some reason.

      • That was last year. Fast has often failed to cover that pass to the weak side point, at least that’s what I see. Last year Hags was with Moore. Big difference.

    • It’s Dom, not Fast. Dom lost about three steps this season. He’s done. I would love to see Lindberg take over 4C for a few games and see if that makes a difference.

  • The Rangers don’t pressure the points in the defensive zone anymore anyway. Why not switch to a zone? Seems like they’re too slow to get there in time to force a mistake these days. I always thought the Rangers offense was their best defense. By being aggressive with the high options, the Rangers alway spent less time in their end. Teams would back out of the zone rather than let the Rangers go on an odd man rush. That threat has left them this season.

  • I said on here about 10 days ago our play-off spot was in danger and today it’s in more danger than even I expected. Unfortunately I don’t have an answer to the situation as my hockey knowledge isn’t as in depth as you guys but one thing that is totally unacceptable is lack of effort. In any sport you can accept defeat from a team who give 100% effort every game but fall short due to not being good enough but I believe this team is good enough but too many just aren’t showing up right now. And let’s face it – without Hank we wouldn’t even be in a play-off spot. Still I’ll be up watching later but I’m on a last warning as screaming abuse at the TV doesn’t go down well with the wife and kids at 1AM.

    • The Rangers are making the playoffs Charlie. The only way they can miss out is by going something like 1-9-0 to close out the season. That is not happening.

      Now, if you meant the Rangers are letting second in the division slip away, that is certainly a possibility, but I think the Rangers can manage to hold off Pittsburgh. I think you are just spooked by Pittsburgh suddenly getting hot. They will fade, that’s not a well constructed team. They lack depth. And you know, as bad as the Rangers seem to be, the Islanders are even worse. It’s Panic City on the Island/Brooklyn.

      • Chris – I hope you’re right about NYI buy they do have two games in hand. The eight spot is Detroit on 83pts – it’s too damned close with ten games to go. You say it’s Panic City on the Island/Brooklyn – it’s not far off it on here:))

        • It is very difficult to make up points in today’s NHL with the three point games. You are looking at the illusion of failing to make the playoffs.

          • I agree about the three point games making it more difficult but it’s certainly not an illusion but a real possibility. I don’t want to sound like a doom and gloom merchant but I’m Scottish – we are the masters of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

  • I like the idea on the PK, clearly the loss of bBoyle, hags etc has killed this area of the team, fact Is we just don’t have that many great pk guys anymoreand while the system played perfectly to hags, bBoyle, Stepan, Nash and Dmoore, it doesn’t work quiet as well w the replacements so a simple tweak involving a unit much easier to implement. As far as the breakout; in concept changing it makes sense, but u can’t make even simple changes this late in the year, plus this is one area where I believe it’s player “moxy” and “execution” over system and players. In reality a system that stresses quick short passes to build a rush up ice w support is perfect t for today’s NHL and 95percent of these forwards perfectly understood what they needed to do last year to support that effort. Get that back and I’m sure the Dmen hand grenading the puck off the glass should stop. A breakout is about options, if u watch the timing is off from the D looking to make a play the forwards are half assing it back and when u are under duress w no one back to help the only play is a chip up the glass because it’s the safest. Yes if no one was pressuring u, sure get it back to ur D behind the net, but Tms are pressing hard, nyr Fs gotta be willing to backcheck as hard.

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