Hockey Tactics

Rangers continue to give up the blue line on opposing rushes – and it’s by design

Defensive scheme likely to lead to sustained pressure against

As we come to the end of the week off between games –right before we head into another week off– the Rangers didn’t disappoint, giving us a trade and a new fourth line to talk about. Beyond that, there is still some systems analysis to be had, and it isn’t pretty.

Sticking to one example here not because I am cherry picking, but as you can see I’m short on resources and clips of zone entries against.

You’ll have to excuse the crude video taping of my TV, but this still gets the point across. One item that has been on the forefront of my game watching has been how the Rangers control the defensive blue line. Through the first two games this year, the defense has continually given up the blue line to opposing rushers, choosing to stand up and challenge at the top of the circle.

This isn’t cherry picking on one play, it’s by design. They did this last year too. The issue here is that when the Rangers continue to back up, thereby “playing it safe”, they allow skaters to gain the zone with speed. Since they are backing up through the neutral zone as well, this issue is compounded as there is nothing stopping the oncoming rush from reaching top speed and forcing defenders on their heels. This leads to more sustained pressure against, per Asmae Toumi and Michael Lopez.

*-The link to Asmae’s and Michael’s work is a great read. If you’re looking for a quick summary: Rushes that begin through the neutral zone with speed lead to more successful offensive zone shifts, as opposed to passing to a guy standing still at the blue line. Speed rules.

By giving up the blue line and allowing speed into the defensive zone, the Rangers were caved in defensively last year. They were one of the league’s worst at allowing shot attempts against. Now this is partly due to the personnel deployed last year, but we are beginning to see that happen again this year. Winnipeg crushed them from a shot attempt perspective at even strength. It was special teams that won that game.

The good news is that the right side of the blue line is going to be significantly better than last season. They have three guys that can skate. The bad news is that only Tony DeAngelo has experience in this system. Jacob Trouba is new to the team and Adam Fox is a rookie. Theoretically, all three should get better as the season goes on. This also assumes some kind of step forward for Brady Skjei and continued positive development for Libor Hajek. Marc Staal is a lost cause at this point.

No matter what the personnel is, they won’t be able to overcome a system that continually allows skilled players to enter the zone with speed. There is very little back checkers can do to prevent this kind of entry, but they can cover the third/fourth guy in for the chances across the slot line that tend to happen from this kind of rush. This is almost entirely on the defense not standing up at the blue line by design. That’s on both David Quinn and Lindy Ruff.

It’s no secret that we aren’t fans of Ruff defensive system around here. Nothing against the guy, who is probably a cool dude, but this type of defensive structure is going to cost the Rangers dearly. It may not matter now as they continue the rebuild, but at some point, their approach to defending the blue line is going to need to change.

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  • Thanks Dave, I’ve been complaining about the system too. I am sure that Quinn and Ruff know a great deal more about hockey than me, but it seems that the system makes those 30+ shots against nights far more likely, and leads to high quality scoring chances being allowed.

  • I realize it isn’t a solution but I do hope they get Lindgren into the lineup as soon as they think, he can mentally handle it. He strikes me as a player whose first instinct is to stop the opposing team’s forward progress in the neutral zone.

  • If they allow entry, then charge the puck, trapping players just inside the blue line, that would be okay, but our players charge, and then are blown by and now there is a 2 on 1 inside the golden triangle.

  • Quinn and Ruff are sitting back allowing this team to bleed shots, and allowing Hank/Georgie to get peppered damn near every night. It’s not about the personnel – there are few defensive units in the league that might have success with this type of system, if any. This is not a new phenomenon, as noted in the piece – not merely an overreaction to two games, as it has been happening for a long time now. As is the case with any job, simply occupying a role does not automatically grant expertise in said role. If Quinn and Ruff know a great deal more about hockey than you, it sure as hell is not showing in terms of their understanding of what is going on in the Rangers end.

  • Sorry, that comment was for Peter. No idea why it didn’t register there, since that is where I hit Reply.

  • I disagree.

    The lack of quality 2-way forwards and a good top 4 is what’s bleeding shots in on net.

  • Charge the puck? This isn’t football, you never charge to anybody in the sport of hockey. Sorry but personal experiences from my squirt days would be telling me that in the back of my head.

    Do you want to hold the blue line in for either zone? That type of awareness that can’t be taught is then needed. Hips/chest don’t lie and the Rangers D suck at reading those kinds of things. A better center core would also help aid the bleeding of opponents just walking into the zone.

  • This is the much valued Lindy Ruff defensive system, it has followed Ruff everywhere he has coached. Why the Rangers haven’t replaced Ruff remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a riddle

  • There is nothing inherently wrong with the system itself, well at least not back in the days when the neanderthals roamed the earth. I think they could make it work SOMEWHAT despite not having the right personnel for it, then again the game has changed a lot in the last 10-15 years.

  • The system sucks and it’s making the players look bad.

    Evidently Ruff DOES NOT run the D, which is very disappointing because that means one of the younger asst coaches is in charge of this sh-tshow.

  • Like I said below, DQ said in an interview that Ruff is a bench coach and one of the other assistant coaches runs the D.

    Unless DQ was lying.

  • Ruff isn’t such a defensive genius when he isn’t able to start Dom Hasek 70+ games a year,

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