Hockey Tactics

Breaking down the defensive zone issues

When David Quinn took over head coaching duties, it was expected that the Rangers would shore up their defensive woes and, while they may not win a lot, they were supposed to play better defense. They started the season doing just that, limiting slot line passes and doing an overall better job at protecting the home plate area in front of the net.

Fast forward to 35 games into the season, and we know this isn’t the case anymore. The Rangers are horrible defensively, perhaps even worse than they were under Alain Vigneault. Quinn’s system is specifically designed to cover the middle, so what gives?

Let’s go to a post written by @RickNashtag over at his blog. The post title is specifically about Brady Skjei and how he defends zone entries. Long story short, he’s not that good at it. Or at least that’s what it looks like on the surface.

However Skjei’s issues are an issue across the board for Rangers defensemen. It’s not about the players necessarily being bad, but more about the system Quinn looks to prefer to run for zone entries. Skjei is called out in that post, however it is all Rangers defensemen allowing zone entries.

When it comes to challenging the blue line, Quinn prefers the Rangers to be passive and allow the zone entry. This keeps with Quinn’s preference to keep players to the outside on the rush and away from the home plate area in the center of the zone. This is a stark contrast to AV, who wanted the Rangers to pressure the blue line and force turnovers. From the play above (leveraged from RickNashtag’s post – thank you very much for letting me use this) you can see how far back the defensemen are on rush. That’s not what we are used to seeing.

But therein lies a major part of the problem, which is the Rangers are conceding the zone entry, often with speed. Let’s also add on that the Rangers blue liners are then out of position because they can’t keep up with the speed (blue line mobility is still an issue). As Steve Valliquette noted on a recent broadcast, when a defenseman has both feet in the circles, a slot line pass is more likely.

And there we have the trifecta:

  • The Rangers are conceding the blue line in an attempt to keep the puck to the outside, an aspect of “playing it safe.”
  • The Rangers, in conceding the blue line, are allowing the opposition to gain the zone with speed. This works against their current defense personnel, who still struggle with foot speed.
  • Because the blue liners struggle with foot speed and are allowing the opposition to enter the zone with speed, they are out of position, which opens up slot line passes and dangerous opportunities.

We see another play here (again, courtesy of RickNashtag), but this is a little different because Skjei didn’t fully concede the blue line. However you’ll see he doesn’t challenge the Oilers’ forward on the entry. He allows him to come in, keeps the puck to the outside, and forces a little chip in.

And here’s another issue with the Rangers – on this play, Adam McQuaid doesn’t support Skjei. That should be a turnover, and McQuaid should support the puck once the little chip happens. But he doesn’t. He just continues to play it safe and skates backward. He would probably continue until he hit the boards.

This is all by design. and it’s not a necessarily good design. Teams all over the NHL are exploiting this. The Rangers are giving up the blue line, playing too passively, and appear to be unwilling to go after loose pucks for fear of being out of position. That leads to all the issues we’ve been seeing lately. What’s alarming here is that this is by design. Or at least it appears that way.

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  • If we are having so many issues, why isn’t the braintrust moving to a different system? becuse we are light in player quality on the backend and that is no secret. All this talk of moving Hayes and Krieder, how about moving Skjei and Pionk? They might not garner first rounders, but it could be addition by subtraction. Move out these guys, who can both become servicable offensive defenseman on good defensive teams, for picks or great prospects. Will we really be hurting our lineup that much with these two players gone? I think they would bring more back than B. Smith., who needs to be moved as well. We probably need 3 new defensmen on this team, with at least two of them knowing how to play defense.

    • Do you really think that we can upgrade the defense (or any position) just by swapping players with another team? Unless we happen to find an opposing GM who’s suffering major brain fade, the best we’ll do is just replace our underachievers with theirs. We’re not going to get something better without giving up more than Skjei or Pionk.

      • Maybe they have a need for a PP quarterback? Pionk can handle that. Maybe a pick or a prospect in return?

    • JG gave Quinn the keys to the palace and set the tone in the head coach introduction speech. He said that he would give him all rights for player personnel and movements. I could see how Quinn would vouch for Pionk when he already replaced Skjei on the PP’s and TOI with him. In other other words, don’t expect them to trade him, he’s apart of the future. His compete level and offense is far greater than Skjei’s 200 ft game.

      This team had proved already that they don’t need Skjei to win. Matter of fact it’s safer to assume that he’ll have a big part in goals against tonight. This lineup can’t hold Smith and him at the same time, way to much liability being spread around those two. Once again, I know I don’t call the shots but 100% expect Skjei to be traded before Pionk.

      I bet Quaider would rather go back and play with Andrew Ference.

  • Pressuring the blue line under AV? I don’t think so. I agree that the D have not been great under Quinn but let’s not start re-inventing history.

  • Dave, great info! Would be nice to see a little change in the Defensive scheme. Let me get back into blaming the players for being not talented enough.

    • Wake up man, this system is idiot proof, they run a less complicated zone entry’s than some D2 colleges. Playing zone defense= handle your quadrant, it’s what most high schools run in soccer, hockey and lacrosse. It’s easy, wingers have a special place to how far they need to go down to help out or go up top to pressure the points. D men know where they will get help from the forwards as long as they cover the correct passing lanes an stay alert.

      Skjei is not an alert type of player, he rather fall asleep behind the wheel. He always struggled in the most basic 1v1 and 2v2 and if it’s a odd man than he’s 100% useless. That’s not on the defensive scheme, Skjei is just a top 4 or 5 that needs shelter minutes. He fails the system in all 3 zones.

  • The Rangers have some defensemen with foot speed, and some who definitely lack it. Lovely video of Adam McQuaid you posted is worth 1000 words. Does he start instead of DeAngelo again next game?

  • These guys are place holders for Miller, Nils, and Hajek and others. Skeij looks like a second pair d-man, and Pionk 3rd pair/PP guy. Lindgren may factor here too. Reminder: it’s a rebuild. There will be more prospects and/or players down the line. This defense needs A LOT of time to become viable, so the question remains … should anyone be immuned from being moved on this team?

    • the answer is no other then select rookies. They are probably 3 years away . need time to clear out dead wood $.

      They can play whatever system they want but while rolling 8 bottom 6 (4-6) d men …. Yeah its gonna be a struggle.

  • It would be nice if the forwards helped out on a consistent basis. We’ve seen games when they play both sides of the puck and contribute. It’s a team game, not just 2 d and 3 forwards who aren’t responsible. Granted Staal is 3 steps behind average players, McQuaid is horrendous Shittypamts as well if he ever gets healthy! Skjei seems to be making a mess of every game. So if the forwards contribute( especially the centers! ) then we see a different game.

  • Maybe the plan was to handicap the team and advance the rebuild by stocking up on “offensive” defenseman who are defensively challenged, to identify which one or two of the group to build around later, and then backfill eventually with defensively capable players, rather than starting with a sound defensive group that would make hank’s life easier and help win too many games to pull a good draft pick?

    Either that or (my preferred theory) just, FO has no clue how to build a defensive lineup 🙂

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