mika zibanejad

Despite the tough loss on Tuesday night, the Rangers are playing very good hockey lately. These wins are different from last year, as goaltending isn’t the sole reason for the run of wins. They are demolishing most of their opponents with good on-ice process. It’s refreshing to see. After 11 games, I’ve noticed a few things.

  • The defensive zone play is significantly improved. There are a few reasons for this, but they can all be summed up by one word: Execution. Alain Vigneault’s hybrid zone/man style of play is complicated, and the Rangers were unable to execute last year, with forwards missing assignments and defensemen chasing their man all the way to the blue line. This year, the defensemen are sticking their man until the dots then releasing, as they should. It leaves the forwards able to overload the boards properly to force turnovers and start the transition. It’s been wonderful to see this executed properly.

  • The forwards are backchecking much more effectively this year. That is also helping with the improved defensive zone play, as less Royal Road passes are being completed. Leads to easier chances for Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta to stop.
  • The transition game has been fun to watch. Few teams can stick with the Rangers up and down the ice, so it’s working quite well. The concern is what happens when teams adjust and start standing up in the neutral zone or at the blue line. Can the Rangers adjust as well? Or is their team speed just too much? We won’t know until January.
  • The interesting part of the offensive pressure is that it’s not all generated off the rush. The Rangers have been pressing big in the offensive zone, controlling the puck, and getting more than just one shot on net before giving up the puck. This has led to a league high 58% SCF, which is absurdly good. The team seems to be able to generate high quality chances off the rush, off the forecheck, and off grinding along the boards. A three-headed hydra that is difficult to stop.
  • My main concern is that outside of Ryan McDonagh and Brady Skjei, the Rangers don’t have any blue liners that play consistently that can move the puck efficiently. That’s a major problem for a team that is heavily dependent on quick puck movement out of the zone. Adam Clendening is good here, but it’s clear AV doesn’t like other aspects of his game. None of Dan Girardi, Kevin Klein, Nick Holden, or Marc Staal can do this with regularity.
  • Over the past two seasons, the Rangers have lived and died by the rush attack. This year, they don’t necessarily need rushes to generate offense. They won’t continue to score fiveĀ goals per game, but –barring injuries– they should be able to continue to pressure like this regularly. They are certainly fun to watch.