The defense can only get better, but it will take time

rangers hawks kevin shattenkirk henrik lundqvist
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

The biggest story at the end of Alain Vigneault’s tenure in New York was the defense. The Rangers hemorrhaged shots left and right. They did so from almost point blank range. At first it was supposed to be the personnel, but the players on the blue line changed over, and the defense got worse.

While I don’t have much insight into new coach David Quinn’s systems, I have oodles of time analyzing and evaluating AV’s systems. It’s lazy analysis to say it was the system, and then not provide any real proof. So let’s take a look at what AV did, and what Quinn can do to make improvements regardless of the roster makeup.

The System

AV’s system was pretty complicated. The incomplete evaluation is that the Rangers played man in the defensive zone. That is only partially correct. The Rangers’ blue liners played man only when their man was below the dots, at which point they were to release. The forwards played a zone (overload). This was overly complicated, and led to tons of men open in the slot with time.

That’s an overly simplistic way of putting it. The Suit put together a very detailed look at the defensive zone play back in 2013, and it’s worth the time to read. Long story short, the shift to man coverage once the puck dropped below the blue line is meant for one type of blue line, and that is a smart, mobile blue line.

Over the past three seasons, the Rangers did not have a mobile blue line at all. When the play shifted to man coverage, they would get burned regularly. It wasn’t limited to the Dan Girardi’s or Marc Staal’s of the world either. Players like Brady Skjei and Kevin Shattenkirk –albeit the latter on one knee– were getting burned regularly as well.

The Stats (all at even strength, data from

There are a few ways to measure the stats in the defensive zone. I’m going to stick xGA/60. xGA/60 is the expected goals against per 60 minutes of hockey, and it encompasses many components such as shot quantity, shot quality, shot type, etc. It’s a better metric than just using shot attempts or scoring chances, since it takes into account many other factors.

Disclaimer: I was going to include average shot distance allowed, but I can’t seem to find a page with that information.

The 2013-2014 Rangers were 20th in the league in xGA/60 (2.3). That should sound somewhat surprising, since this is the team that came within a few bad bounces of a Stanley Cup. The 2014-2015 Rangers, the team that ran away with the President’s Trophy and was a McDonagh-almost-killing-Zuccarello-injury away from back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances, were even worse at 26th in the league (2.5). Surprised?

It only got worse from there. The 2015-2016 Rangers were dead last in the league in xGA/60 at 2.44. The 2016-2017 Rangers were 24th in the league at 2.47. Last year’s Rangers, the season that got AV fired, were again dead last at a whopping 2.8 xGA/60. This is all at even strength too! Suffice it to say, the Rangers were just horrible on the blue line.

The Adjustments needed

If we are oversimplifying things, then the easy way out is to say the Rangers need to ensure the slot is covered more, which should lead to less dangerous chances being allowed. Defend the home plate area in front of the net, and they can’t get much worse.

However it’s not that simple, because there’s more to the defensive zone than defending the front of the net. Do that, and you wind up with a John Tortorella type defense, where the Rangers get pinned for minutes on end until the puck is either under Henrik Lundqvist or in the back of the net. It’s not fun to watch.

So we are left with the most logical plan: Adjust the defensive zone system to account for the players on the team. The hybrid zone/man that AV ran is going the way of the dodo. Teams are too fast and too skilled and simply exploit it by targeting the slower defenders. Hockey 101. The answer is in a straight zone.

The overload has its place in hockey, and it’s a strong defensive system. Overload the puck carrier/strong side of the ice, and if the puck winds up below the goal line or on the weak side point, collapse into a low zone box. Simple, yet effective. Turnovers can be forced by anticipating that pass to the weak side defender, hence why speed and hockey IQ at the wing are important.

Adjustments take time though. The good thing is that the Rangers have significant player turnover, so there won’t be as many players needing to learn a new system. This means it shouldn’t be as bad as it was in 2013 when AV took over (remember those 9-2 and 6-0 games out west?). With these small adjustments, the Rangers should be tougher to play against in their own end next season.

"The defense can only get better, but it will take time", 5 out of 5 based on 12 ratings.

21 thoughts on “The defense can only get better, but it will take time

  • Jul 13, 2018 at 6:06 am

    Better and more skilled players
    Healthy players
    Coach with a defensive structure
    They can only go up from here from last year

    That about sum it up?

    • Jul 13, 2018 at 12:21 pm

      If a trade that could be center around Zib could be had for EK than JG should just do it already. EK will make it up on the PP and will give better results on 5 on 5. He would even help out greatly on the PK. I think in the long run when EK is 34-35, he’ll be had for some good value.

      Players like Andre and ADA should be forwards imo.

      • Jul 13, 2018 at 12:44 pm

        Talent can be redundant. Karlsson and the Rangers is not a good fit. The Rangers have Kevin Shattenkirk. Adding EK makes Shatty less valuable and good trades are ones that make the players you have now more valuable, not less.

        • Jul 13, 2018 at 1:05 pm

          I understand what your saying but before Doughty resigned with LA, I was holding out hope that the Rangers would pitch a trade for him. I always had the idea of Shatty playing with elite QB on the PP and if Zib would stay than you just shuffle him q little down in the circle. I would expect the PP to improve along with 5 on 5 and PK. He would make everything go more smoothly. Yes it’s a long shot but if it were to ever happen than I would see more gains from a move like this.

      • Jul 14, 2018 at 6:51 am

        Unless something changes radically, I think that the Karlsson to Rangers ship has sailed.

        It appears like the Rangers are accumulating cap space for next year’s FAs.

        So the “lose for Hughes” is on and 2019-20 appears to be the year that they are gunning for.

  • Jul 13, 2018 at 7:35 am


    The Adjustments needed

    “If we are oversimplifying things, then the easy way out is to say the Rangers need to ensure the slot is covered more, which should lead to less dangerous chances being allowed”.

    “So we are left with the most logical plan: Adjust the defensive zone system to account for the players on the team”.

    “Teams are too fast and too skilled and simply exploit it by targeting the slower defenders.”

    This post is right on target, but should have come out three years ago, when the Kings identified Girardi as the target who they were going to exploit due to the concrete in his skates. Poor Dan, he lacked foot speed, and AV never put him in a position to succeed.

    Some of us saw it early, expressed our dissatisfaction, and have been made to be villains. All we wanted was for the clown to make a few adjustments to his game plan, in game adjustments, and or simplify the game for the players we had on the roster. Time and again we were shown how AV couldn’t think on his feet, and chew gum simultaneously, and the gum won out.

    Bottom line, Quinn, and whomever his defensive coach will make vast improvements over the course of this season, and within a relatively short period of time, we should have a very sound defense. How can we not improve on the garbage we were fed over the last three seasons…………………………….

    • Jul 13, 2018 at 7:40 am

      Hopefully we have a coach that actually, you know, coaches?

  • Jul 13, 2018 at 8:36 am

    If the Rangers want to improve defensively they need to focus on reducing the number of turnovers. AVs one dimensional Hail Mary stretch pass attack was exploited last year by the other teams.
    Puck support needs to emphasize as well as winning puck battles along the boards. They need a few more players that can come up with the puck in the corners as their roster is filled with perimeter players. Quinn has a huge challenge on his hands.

    • Jul 13, 2018 at 9:22 pm

      That’s what I always thought Kreider should be good at and be used for. He skates well but he’s big and certainly strong enough. Kreider is one of the current Rangers I’d look to keep around.

  • Jul 13, 2018 at 9:50 am

    Could you please tell me what systems the 4 semifinalists had? I know Gerardi played on one and Orpik another. How were they protected?did offense drive winning?

    • Jul 13, 2018 at 6:48 pm

      great forwards…..the best defense is a good offense…….keep the puck in the opponents end……

    • Jul 14, 2018 at 6:54 am

      It’s actually very simple, have dominating forwards that have the puck and your back end is sheltered and protected.

      I mean, I do not buy at all that the Pens’ D and Murray in nets gave them Cups. When the Pens played the Sharks, the Pens’ forwards had the puck most of the game.

      We have it, then you can’t score mentality.

  • Jul 13, 2018 at 11:30 am

    New coach, new system, some new players should hopefully improve the defense. Shatty running on all cylinders should help, as well as Pionk maturing. I really believe this kid is one day going to be a star in this league. DeAngelo looked somewhat more settled in, before he got hurt last year. A new coach and system, may do him wonders! I am hoping our new Swedish defenseman Calessan, from Ottawa will blossom into a solid stay at home type physical defenseman.I have a feeling our young defenseman Lindsom may be a physical presence with a gritty edge. Definitely, keep an eye on him as he matures. Also, forwards must learn to back check, not just wait at the blue line for an offensive breakout, which I believe Quinn will install. With all that being said, I am very optimistic about our defense improving.

  • Jul 13, 2018 at 11:59 am

    The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Welcome to AV’s world.

    • Jul 13, 2018 at 12:47 pm

      Be fair. He did get different results. In his fifth season, he missed the playoffs and got fired.

      • Jul 13, 2018 at 4:54 pm

        Ha, point taken Ray.

    • Jul 13, 2018 at 2:05 pm

      The Caps on offense played a cycle game. They used their big forwards and ran over both Tampa Bay’s and Vegas defencemen. The best defence is playing in the others team end.

    • Jul 13, 2018 at 9:18 pm

      I agree. Someone will hire him tho. He won’t be out of work for very long. He may have to settle on a small market team like Carolina looking to rebuild to win over the next 2-4 years.

  • Jul 13, 2018 at 12:05 pm

    I wonder how the rush offense approach (i.e., lack of sustained O pressure – I’m assuming stats back this up) played into the xGA/60 performance as well.

  • Jul 13, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    Sorry, Dave, you just don’t get it. This is a waste of time because you have your story line and will always make the facts fit them.

    The defense has three objectives:
    1. Keep the puck out of the net
    2. Keep the puck out of the net.
    3. Help transition to the offensive zone.

    The third is not so important and hard to measure, so let’s focus on the big one. You measure success accurately in one and only one way – you count goals. Nothing else matters. This is how one evaluates the past.

    Predicting the future is another matter. Whether a goal goes in or not is partly luck and there are few goals scored. Therefore, metrics which merely count goals are subject to large sample size error. IMPORTANT: This is irrelevant for evaluating the past, but should not be ignored in predicting the future.

    It makes sense to develop new metrics which allow you to use more data. However, when you start counting things that don’t exactly matter, there is no guarantee that you will get anything more than accurate rubbish. The most important tests of the new metrics are how well they predict the future. Here for example is a real test. Compute GA and xGA for a team over a twenty game span. Then compute the same stats over the next twenty games. If xGA over the first twenty games is a better predictor of GA over the second twenty than GA is, then xGA is useful. I have neither done nor seen such a study.

    Now let’s look at the Ranger defense. The Rangers were a very good team from 2013-2015. That is factual. As xGA says they were below average in 2013-2014 and horrendous when they won the President’s Trophy, that is evidence that xGA is garbage. I think we an agree that Cam Talbot is not a Hall of Fame goaltender. He’s okay, but nothing really special. In 2013-2014, he posted the second highest save percentage in the hundred year NHL history among goalies who appeared in 20+ games. Granted, it was a low scoring era, but how in the world does this happen unless he has a really good defense in front of him.

    And I did do a study once on scoring. The number of goals a team gets is just the number of shots times shooting percentage. The difference between one team and another was mostly due to shooting percentage, not shots.

    The sad fact is that the Ranger defense can get worse. The AV defense had strengths and weaknesses. To not appreciate the strengths is to not understand how to play defense – and if you don’t understand, you can make things worse.

  • Jul 13, 2018 at 9:09 pm

    I like the zone coverages down low but why wouldn’t man coverage up high at the points help force the play and get the puck out?

    I liked when the Rangers used to force Turnovers at their defensive blue line where the attacking team can’t really hurt you. As long as you have good skating wingers, if I’m a coach that’s what I’m doing. I would use it different Situationally as well. When playing with a big lead and/or late you stay in your zone. Early on or in tight games force the play.
    The 14/15 Rangers created about 50% of their offense off the rush. Not all of it was from the defensive blue line but you spend less time defending. That year the wingers caused turnovers just on reputation alone. Defenseman were so conscious of that Ranger winger bearing down on them, they coughed up the puck. At least it came out, at best it became a Ranger chance the other way.

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