Rangers vs. Senators: Systems preview

alain vigneault

The second round matchup is now set, as the Rangers will take on the Ottawa Senators in the Atlantic Division Final. The Sens closed out the Bruins in overtime last night, setting the stage for Game One in Ottawa this week. The Senators are going to pose a problem for the Rangers, as they have some pretty solid team speed and skill.

The last time these two teams faced off in the playoffs was in 2012, with the Rangers winning in seven games. Both teams are completely different now, so there isn’t much to go on from that series. While the Senators certainly do not have the forward depth to match the Blueshirts, they have a good amount of speed and skill throughout the lineup. Erik Karlsson looms large as well. They play very well and are a disciplined team under Guy Boucher.


Even strength play for the Rangers revolves around creating high chance opportunities off the rush with a steady forecheck and set breakouts. Last year this was an issue, as team speed wasn’t on par with the style of play they wanted. However this year is different. The reloaded forwards are capable of springing a rush off a turnover very quickly. Couple that with improved skill and finishing ability, and the Rangers have one of the more potent offenses in the league.

The forecheck is an area where the Rangers need to commit. They are still an effective forechecking team, but are also prone to lapses. We saw this first hand against Montreal. The first man in will pressure the puck, and depending on puck location/play, the second will pressure the primary passing option, while the third will pressure the secondary passing option. This is generally an effective 1-2-2 forecheck.

In his first year with the Senators, Boucher as the Sens running a 1-1-3 forecheck, which can be an aggressive forecheck or a neutral zone trap depending on the puck’s location, the score, how much time is left on the clock, etc. When Claude Julien used something similar last series, it gave the Rangers fits, most notably in Game Three.

The forecheck is going to be a major focal point for the Rangers this series. They are going to have to follow the same strategy they did against Montreal. Short passes out of the defensive zone, gain the neutral zone with speed, and get in behind the defense. They will need to use their speed to wear down the Senators. That may lead to frustrating starts, but strong finishes.

Defensive Zone

The Rangers’ defensive zone scheme is well known at this point. Or at least people think they know it. Folks will tell you that the Rangers play straight man coverage. But this is in fact, incorrect. The Rangers play an overload/man hybrid system, designed to overload the half-boards and create turnovers. Depending on puck location, certain players will switch to man coverage, specifically D1 and D2, to create more pressure. This is why you sometimes see defensemen pressuring a forward to the top of the circle.

Last year, the Rangers had major issues with defensemen chasing all the way to the blue line. This year is much better, as they are releasing at the top of the circle. This has led to fewer blown coverages and a more efficient defense. The Rangers are far from perfect, but they made progress in correcting that issue.

Zone Coverage

The Senators, like most of the teams in the league, run a much simpler defensive zone strategy. They use a standard overload and zone system. The zone will look like an overload, and naturally the look will change depending on puck location. They will likely shift to a box+1 if the puck is behind the net.

The key for the Rangers is going to be their speed (I say this a lot). The Senators, outside of Karlsson, do not have strong depth on the blue line. Speed and skill will kill the Senators, especially on the cycle. Moving their feet, getting pucks on net, and crashing the net will be critical for the Rangers. Like against the Habs, the Rangers have a matchup advantage with their bottom-six against the bottom pairing for the Sens.

Special Teams
1-3-1 Powerplay

The Rangers actually had a pretty decent powerplay this year. They sat at 20% for most of the season, but you wouldn’t realize it based on the Montreal series. The Rangers scored just once against the Habs, so that will need to improve. They will be running a 1-3-1 or umbrella (more or less a 3-2) powerplay, depending on the unit and how the play is developing. This will run through Ryan McDonagh and Brady Skjei.

Powerplays in the NHL aren’t creative anymore since the advent of the 1-3-1. Boucher runs the same hybrid approach as AV. There’s not much else here.

Diamond force

On the penalty kill, the Rangers play an overload/diamond force, which is used to pressure the puck carrier and take away passing lanes. Players like Michael Grabner are able to counter attack for chances off turnovers that this style creates. But this does put a lot of pressure on the penalty kill keep heads on a swivel and not miss assignments and/or players creeping from the point.

A unique aspect of the penalty kill for the Blueshirts is that they do not designate one player to clear the front of the net. When Henrik Lundqvist is in net, they “front”, which means playing in front of the forward in an attempt to block shooting and passing lanes. This goes well with an overload/diamond force, as it forces more turnovers. But as you can expect, it comes with the drawback of leaving guys in front for rebounds and deflections.

Much like at even strength, Boucher is much simpler than Alain Vigneault on the penalty kill as well. The Senators will run a standard box/diamond hybrid penalty kill. They will rotate between the two based on time puck location. Nothing crazy there.

Tactically speaking, AV is the better coach than Boucher. Boucher does get credit for creating the 1-3-1 forecheck (now banished from existence, thankfully), but aside from that he’s fairly simple. AV is blessed with a faster and more skilled roster, capable of more complicated and potentially more effective teams.

Much like in Montreal, the Rangers are going to need to execute. That means getting the puck in deep, getting shot attempts and scoring chances, and wearing down the Senators with their speed. If they play like they did in Games 4, 5, and 6, then they will win. If they don’t, then it might not be a fun series.

"Rangers vs. Senators: Systems preview", 5 out of 5 based on 16 ratings.

40 thoughts on “Rangers vs. Senators: Systems preview

  • Apr 24, 2017 at 7:22 am

    Karlsson is like a 4th forward on the ice at all times. His speed and ability make him the most dangerous guy out there.

    Matcups will once again be key. They cycle well and break out with 4 guys joining the rush.

    Their 4th line isn’t much to speak of.

  • Apr 24, 2017 at 7:31 am

    It was reported yesterday that Karlsson said that he’s playing with 2 hairline fractures in his foot.

    The biggest difference between the 2 teams lies in 2 main areas: The goalies and the depth. 2 huge advantages for the Rangers.

    Let the Caps and Pens beat the crap out of each other.

    • Apr 24, 2017 at 7:43 am

      And let the winner come out of that series scared, and lame!!!!!!!!!

      On a side note, the Leafs took this Caps team almost to the brink, with 5 games going into OT. They are going to be very good real soon …………….

      • Apr 24, 2017 at 7:57 am

        The leafs are way ahead of schedule my friend. They need a good vet D man presence back there and I don’t know if Anderson is the answer in goal. But yeah, they will be a force very soon.

        I watched the Sens-Bees game yesterday and I think that you really cannot not judge either team off that game given the double OT game prior to that beating the crap out of both teams.

        I think the Rangers should win this series but they have to put shots on Anderson and go for the rebounds.

        • Apr 24, 2017 at 8:41 am

          It should be a good series, and very winnable!!!!!!

          • Apr 24, 2017 at 9:17 am

            I have a very positive prediction and I am not posting it to jinx it, lol.

    • Apr 24, 2017 at 2:53 pm

      I don’t understand why Karlson would admit to this. Didn’t he just open up a weakness for other team’s to explore? Or is this mind games?

      • Apr 24, 2017 at 5:18 pm

        Very good question, I have no idea why anyone would say anything. It might have been leaked and then reported.

        They just announced that Thornton was playing with a torn acl and mcl and needs surgery. But no mention up until now, which is the right thing to do.

  • Apr 24, 2017 at 7:40 am

    I never liked playing the Sens, they are sneaky good. Any team that can put a guy like Karlsson out there for some 30 minutes a night, is going to give you fits. Like Sal said that is 4 forwards your playing against. On the flip side, that’s one defenseman your playing against, so it could be a positive for us??

    Anderson in net has always played well against our team. A few years back, it was him alone that carried the Sens to a seven game series against us, he is underrated at best. If we put pressure on him, and their defense being questionable, well we could take this series as well.

    Now is the time for some of our kids to start playing like they want to win, and pay the price for it. Kreider has got to start producing, we can’t expect our smallest player to play like our biggest should be playing. Bottom line, Chris this is a gut check, show us you have some!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Apr 24, 2017 at 8:01 am

    i am looking forward this series and this is time for Kreider, Hayes, and Miller to step it up and forget that brass was a teammate of theirs for four seasons and get shots on Anderson.

    • Apr 24, 2017 at 11:27 am

      big point just made. FORGET “brass” WAS a teammate . he is now a senator UNTIL series is over !!!!! also, stepan needs to get the cement out of his skates, is he hurt ??

      • Apr 25, 2017 at 6:47 pm

        Stepan slow, soft and prone to putting teammates in bad spots with the puck.

  • Apr 24, 2017 at 8:04 am

    looking forward to the series I am glad there is no game 7 tonight in Montreal hopefully they can follow up the first round with great second round against the sens it will be nice to see brass

  • Apr 24, 2017 at 9:42 am

    In that picture, is that the coach yelling for Tanner to look out for an oncoming hit?

    • Apr 24, 2017 at 10:48 am

      They should have both Glass and AV mic’d up or at least Stepan, lol that would be humor at it’s best.

      • Apr 24, 2017 at 12:14 pm

        lol, and hear the bromance between them. 🙂

        • Apr 24, 2017 at 1:29 pm

          The messed up thing about is I think we got a glimpse of it last year in Toronto. I don’t know if you remember but some guy was bad mouthing to Glass and AV loses it and goes over the bench to talk smack for him haha.

          • Apr 25, 2017 at 5:36 pm

            I always thought that Tanner had some sort of dirt on AV, lol.

  • Apr 24, 2017 at 9:55 am

    Gonna be hard seeing Brass on the opposition…

  • Apr 24, 2017 at 10:00 am

    It’s all so simple, you just send Kreider out on Karlsson at all times to smash his body into the glass, no Glass needed no pun intended. Honestly though, Glass better not play in any more games, he’s just not needed anymore even though he rarely made a big difference when he did play. We should have just turned Dylan into a 4th liner last year, maybe he would have had a place on the special teams like to screen goalies and on the pk.

    • Apr 24, 2017 at 10:18 am

      Our 4th line is superb. Give it a rest already. McIlrath will never be anything in this League.

      • Apr 24, 2017 at 10:42 am

        I don’t know what nerve that I struck but I’m clearly showing that ANYONE other then Glass would be better option on the 4th line. I’m maybe reaching with this but Dylan at that spot would do more justice then to put Glass which was the whole point of why I brought up his name. You’d think that I said to trade in one of our D men for for hi, with how you came at me but you have to take a chill pill bro.

        • Apr 24, 2017 at 10:59 am

          That nerve you mentioned, yeah it seems that would be your nerve. Pretty defensive reaction there to me pointing out there’s no place on this team for McIlrath.

          Look, we just advanced to the 2nd round in the playoffs and we did it by rolling four skilled lines. Why are we talking about McIlrath?

          Even if you were simply saying McIlrath would have been a better option than Glass, Glass had a GWG in Game 1. So again, why are we talking about McIlrath?

          • Apr 24, 2017 at 11:21 am

            Haha come on now, no need for that reverse psychology to try and prove a point. I was chilling and you came at me with a tone that you set because somehow I hit a “nerve” of yours.

            I was basically using Dylan M name to express how much I don’t want Glass in the lineup anymore. It’s not my fault that you can’t see a spade for a spade. Instead you’re trying to use Glass 2nd goal in 60 something playoff games as jump start to putting Dylan down. The same guy who missed a open tap goal in 2011 during a important game which btw will stick to his legacy far more then his freebie on Price. There’s no comparison about AHL level names but again that’s just how much I hope that Glass never will touch the ice as a NYR again. Mcllrath was more of a figure of speech to be used this year.

            • Apr 24, 2017 at 11:31 am

              Sorry to disturb your chill session.

              • Apr 24, 2017 at 12:02 pm

                As in my vibe, my zen, you’re forgiven, but haters will never understand it.

      • Apr 25, 2017 at 6:50 pm

        One of the best moments of Montreal series was when Lindbergh came back out after taking hit to the head. Agree about the fourth line 100%.

    • Apr 24, 2017 at 12:14 pm

      or just slash him on his fractured foot.

      I think I just found a “role” for Tanner.

  • Apr 24, 2017 at 11:48 am

    Karlson playing 30 minutes a night with a fractured foot will eventually take too much of a toll on him. That said, I saw several of the Ottawa/Boston games, and he’s very much the still real deal despite the rumored injury.

    What I like about this series is that we will, in an immediate regard, see who “won” the DJ Z-bad/Brassard trade. Of course, the real winner of the trade won’t be known for many years from now, but I expect Pierre McGuire to mention it on a nightly basis. That and that Smith, McDonagh, and Stepan were all teammates at Wisconsin.

    All that aside, Ottawa is a real good team that can score a lot of goals. A lot of their passes and one-timers made Rask look rather pedestrian at times. I know Boston has issues with their defense, but so do we. If we are gonna win this series, the defense has to be perfect every night.

    • Apr 24, 2017 at 11:59 am

      Ottawa’s defense ain’t nothing spectacular either. They have some heavy guys between Methot, Phanuef, and Harpur. But honestly, they should be highly exploitable. Yes, they have Karlsson, but he’s not exactly a top notch defender.

      If it’s going to be a series of trading chances, I think we’ve got the upper hand. Ottawa has a better top-6 than Montreal, however, they don’t have depth. The Rangers rolling 4 lines is going to wear down Ottawa’s defenders, and as you mentioned, Karlsson playing 30+ minutes a night on a fractured heel is unsustainable.

      The big unknown to me is which Anderson shows up. He only played 40 games this season, so he’s well rested, but he’s not an elite talent, though he’s having a good playoffs so far and has been a worthy adversary against the Rangers in the past.

      • Apr 24, 2017 at 12:09 pm

        Phanuef is overrated, he could be pulled out of position with any form of creativity or smart transition play. Anderson from 2012 was worthy? All along I thought it was a mix of Torts system and the lack of offensive fire power in that series, I guessI was wrong.

  • Apr 24, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    Great analysis Dave, and excellent commentary here. Agree with Walt’s description….Sens are sneaky good.

    The Rangers are the better team for sure, but not by much. So as usual, it will be about a few things.

    1) Contain Karlsson– One thing that I think AV-coached teams have done well in the playoffs is to come up with a good game plan to limit (if not completely neutralize) the oppositon’s best player. Last series, Pach was a non factor and Weber was minimized. In the past (not last year of course), we’ve done well in limiting the damage done by the likes of Ovie, Crosby and Malkin. But this is a new challenge. A lot of people Karlsson is like a modern-day Bobby Orr. Hands down the best defenseman in the game. He will be hands down the best player on the ice each night–and that always worries me that we really have no one on on roster even close to his talents.

    2) Solving Anderson–This guy is a good goalie and we obviously on paper have a huge goaltending edge here. But Anderson historically has given us fits.

    3) “Elite” Offense?– It’s time for our “Untouchables” to show up. We cant expect to win every single game 1-0, 2-1 or 3-2. It is an unrealistic burden to place on Hank.

    Our depth should provide a significant edge, but ONLY if we can finish. If our best skill players show up, then we can make short work of this team. But given the playoff history of the Rangers, they rarely do anythng the easy way.

  • Apr 24, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    What is meant by the 1-3-1 forecheck being “banished?”

  • Apr 24, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    The coaching staff may finally understand that rolling your lines are important and not only in words. The rolling of the defensemen lines is equally important.
    I just hope we don’t continue to play the wounded bird situation, where the team looks like shit before they steamroll you in the next 2 periods.
    Some people forget what Glass does to the team. Let me remind you! He throws off the balance on the team. I must admit he played well when he was here but that screws up the lines. The line that Glass is on becomes a checking line. You can now subtract one offensive line. The other coach now only has to solve 3 lines. Now the other lines weren’t producing so all that the other coaches needed to do were to play the trap.
    With the other lines before Butch was playing, the lineup was woefully unproductive. At home, the players were put at such a disadvcantage we would lose many games. and the only player that looked good was Tanner Glass. Even Hank did not look good. We have a few people like E3 and the think alikes who can not see past AV’s mole on his face and will disagree. Its ok they are just leftists. Big hearts but just wrong.

    • Apr 24, 2017 at 3:53 pm

      Glass is never returning, he sucked when you want to start looking at the bigger picture. The lineup plays better without him, it really looks like they use a anchor like Glass as motivation so he doesn’t ever come back.

    • Apr 24, 2017 at 4:20 pm

      Interesting points. And some validity as well. But as usual, over the top distortions of reality.

      Hank didn’t look good when Glass was playing? What? Oh you mean his brilliant performance in Game 2 where he made more saves than in any playoff game he’s ever been in? He was brilliant in every single game. You are drifting into the deep waters of inaccuracies again!

      But here’s some real facts for you to ponder…..

      2014 SC Playoffs–

      AV picks his spots and plays the far less talented Daniel Carcillo over the far more talented but inexperienced and green JT Miller or Jesper Fast, who rotated in. He used his gut to dertenine when it was best to go with Car Bomb. My recollection is, just about every time AV swapped players, the move worked. Result–trip to the SCF.

      2015 season and playoffs

      Tanner Glass plays 10 min/game. Rangers have one of the finest regular seasons in their history. In the playoffs, Glass plays 9 minutes/per and the Rangers get to within 20 minutes of the same result they had the previous year–falling short only because they were wrecked by injuries.

      2017 thus far–Rangers win Game 1 on Glass’s goal. Without Glass in there, and considering how inept the offense has been, it’s highly probable we lose Game 1 if Glass had not started, and then are we looking at a 3-0 hole to start the series.

      The lineup was “woefully unproductive” the entire series, with or without Glass. That’s fact. And the Rangers have won plenty of games, regular season and post season, when the coach trusts his gut and goes with Glass or before him Carcillo. That’s also fact. And Buch has hardly been lighting up (0-0-0) while Glass at least is 1-0-1.

      Now, I’ve said all along that my preference is for AV to play Buch over Glass. But there is an asterisk on that. He’s a young kid still trying to figure things out. What if Ottawa’s scouts find weaknesses that can’t be exploited that may not be easily correctable right now? Might AV go back to Glass? I’d have no problem at all with that and I bet his teammates would welcome that decision with open arms.

      • Apr 24, 2017 at 5:34 pm

        Tanner Glass plays 10 minutes a game. How can you roll 4 lines when you have to sit him because he is not offensive?

        The Rangers have won plenty of games despite Glass which shows you how talented they are. Just because you can beat many with 3 lines doesn’t make you a genius but adjusting to adversity does, which AV has not shown he can do. Maybe this year, I hope he does.
        I think Carcillo was more talented than Glass anyway.

        Can you tell me what we got for 1.5 million$ a year for? 10 minutes and no offense. Some fights and some checks? Is that worth it? No one on his lines tends to score. OK, he had 1 nice goal.

        • Apr 24, 2017 at 5:42 pm

          As I said, I mostly agree with you. At this juncture and against this opponent, I’d stick with Buch. For now. Let’s see how the series unfolds.

          As for how talented the Rangers are…..they have depth for sure. They have Hank. They have “pretend” stars like Miller, Kreider and Hayes. They have good solid players up and down the lineup with very few substandard players.

          But you need star power to win it all most years. We don’t have that at the moment. Let’s see if some of our so-called stars actually play that way. If they do, we advance easily. If they don’t, it’s another long slog and we have to primarily count on Hank to get us across the finish line as usual.

          • Apr 25, 2017 at 3:32 pm

            This comment makes no sense, that’s the kind of thinking that Jim Dolan endorses. Did the Pens win it with an abundance of stars last year? Outside of Kessel Crosby Malkin, the team really changed and got it going when they integrated guys like Bonino Sheary Rust & Murray.

  • May 2, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6epe9cFQ_9c&w=600&h=368%5D

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