Continuing with our midseason grades (top-six, bottom-six, defense, goaltending), let’s take a look at the coaching. This is going to be a tough one, as in the past we’ve usually graded each coach individually. This year I’m going to do something a little different and grade them as a collective unit on a few different areas. Change is a good thing, right?
The System – Even Strength
Ok let’s get the easy one out of the way, and that’s the system. The Rangers play a passive 1-2-2 forecheck where F1 is in and F2/F3 are usually around the blue line/red line. Now this does change based on puck location and situation, such as forcing a turnover, but this has been what it’s looked like for the most part. That leave D1/D2 between the blue line and the top of the circle. This creates a situation where opponents gain speed through the neutral zone and are uncontested into the offensive zone. Naturally, this isn’t overly good, and leads to sustained pressure against.
That said, something has changed recently. It could be the execution, or it could just be a swapping of the defense pairs. But the Rangers have been significantly better over the past six weeks. This is something I need to look at a little more in depth, but something is clicking and the defensive effort has been significantly better. They’ve been trending up when it comes to limiting quality and quantity against, although that unfortunately coincided with a rough goaltending stretch. It’s tough to say if this is the norm going forward or just a blip.
It’s not all questions though, as the coaching staff has a steady and dangerous offense at even strength. Good coaches know to let their star players run the show, and that’s what they are doing. Kudos to them for backing off offensively. Would be nice if they shot the puck a wee bit more often though. Grade: C – but this grade could look foolish if the last six weeks is the norm.
The Rangers should be better on the powerplay. That’s a safe statement to make. The coaching staff has insisted on putting five righties on the top powerplay unit, basically shifting all attention to the left circle and shots from there. Naturally, this hasn’t worked at all. Even when they put a lefty (Chris Kreider) there, he’s in front of the net, so there’s no impact. A lefty on the right circle is needed to keep the defense honest about where shots are coming from. They’ve been galaxy braining this powerplay for far too long.
As for the penalty kill, they aren’t overly good, but that’s expected. I don’t think this is a coaching or a system thing though. I think it’s just they don’t have a good penalty kill unit to use consistently. That and they take far too many penalties. Grade: C+ – but should be better if they stop galaxy braining the top powerplay unit.
Development – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
This is the toughest area. You look at Filip Chytil, Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Lindgren, and Brendan Lemieux, and you see good development and improvement. This quartet has earned their roles in the lineup, and have improved significantly since last season. I don’t think anyone would argue. These four represent the good.
Then we have to look at the bad. That would be Libor Hajek and Kaapo Kakko. Hajek, pre-injury, had been in a top pairing role in which he simply didn’t belong. He never improved, and he looked just downright awful in the process. He was never shifted down in the lineup to get easier matchups until he sprained his knee. As for Kakko, he’s had his struggles, but the constant juggling up and down the lineup isn’t helping. Plus benching him after a bad penalty when he’s having an otherwise good game is a bad look.
This brings us to the ugly. Lias Andersson and Vitali Kravtsov. I’m not going to go into the full details, I’ve done that already. There was a clear communication issue with these two players, and it led to some public disagreements. Andersson has requested a trade, but at least Kravtsov is back and looking to show he belongs with the Rangers. This is where the coaching staff appears to have failed, as communication and expectations were not clearly defined for these guys.
To grade the coaching staff on just the good or just the bad or just the ugly would be unfair. Factoring in all three makes it a challenging grade, and one that is probably going to get debated a bunch. Grade: C.
Not a single piece of gum in sight. Grade: A.