Hockey Tactics

New look forecheck and neutral zone play changing Rangers’ success

Sending F2 in deep is creating more turnovers

Prior to yesterday’s strong win against the Islanders, both Rob’s mentioned to me that the Rangers seemed to be closing gaps differently on the forecheck and in the neutral zone. I hadn’t had a chance to watch in depth until last night, so I took that opportunity to look at their forecheck and gap control.

Prior (Still Current?) System

David Quinn has the Rangers running a 2-1-2 forecheck. When Quinn first got here, it was a fairly aggressive forecheck, with F1 usually pressuring behind the net and F2 supporting close to the slot/bottom of the circle. F3 would assess the play around the blue line and pinch in right situation to cause a turnover. D1/D2 would be around the red line, but they were never really active in the forecheck.

I’m not sure if Quinn changed the forecheck to start this season or if the Rangers just weren’t executing, but it appears that the Rangers were not getting F2 in deep enough, making the forecheck look more like a 1-2-2, but way too passive in allowing speed through the neutral zone. F1 would be in the offensive zone, but F2 and F3 would be around the blue line, pushing D1 and D2 back to the red line or worse. That led to the mess we saw the first two months of the season.

What Changed?

From watching last night’s game, and based on what Rob and Rob noted prior, it looks like the Rangers started going back to the original 2-1-2 forecheck.

Thanks to Tom for providing the gifs I asked for. 

The big change here is that F1 and F2 are both in very deep, behind the goal line. This may be a product of the loose puck, but regardless it’s still a stark change from what we’ve seen the Rangers do on the forecheck. F3 is Chytil here, and he is supporting around the slot.

Another big change is that D1 is active in the forecheck – pinching on this play to force the turnover and the chance for Chytil. This is the first time in a long time that I remember the defense being active on the forecheck.

The whole sequence led to a post by Chytil and then sustained offensive pressure for about 30 seconds. It did end with a blocked shot and subsequent rush the other way, but that was less a product of the forecheck and more a result of a blocked shot.

Here’s another sequence from last night’s game. Again F1 and F2 are in deep at the goal line and F3 is reading the play and supporting for a turnover. Previously, F2 would be where F3 was, and F3 wouldn’t even be in the picture.

The defense is not as active in this situation because they changed, and it actually turned into a rush against since the forwards were outnumbered by the Isles and it turned into a rush the other way.

Neutral Zone Gap Control

Something to note here is how Tony DeAngelo and Marc Staal, the new defensemen after the change, didn’t have the chance to step up on the rush. Staal was far closer to F1 on the rush, about a stick’s distance apart at the neutral zone dot (screenshot below). That forces the pass to F2 a little behind the play. That little pressure, combined with DeAngelo’s positioning, forces the rush to the outside and then eventually behind the net.

Staal’s stick check and gap control forced the Isles to slow down, and while there was still a controlled zone entry, it was a low risk entry since it was not with speed and it was forced out wide. In prior scenarios, we would see Staal and DeAngelo already at the blue line or worse. There is also support on the third man in, ensuring this isn’t an odd-man rush.


The Rangers have been much better in creating pressure off the forecheck, leading to sustained offensive chances and overall better defensive play in the neutral zone.

This is something Rob and I both illustrated in posts at the midseason mark. Rob mentioned the prior 12 games (now closer to 15) had seen a markedly improved defensive team, while I mentioned that the Rangers were trending better offensively and defensively as the season wore on. More pressure on the forecheck and better gap control in the neutral zone plays a significant role in those numbers and trends.

In the end, the jury is still out on whether this was a change in system or just a change in ability to execute a proper forecheck, more video review is needed. That said, the Rangers have been significantly better due to a more aggressive style of play. Chaos reigns supreme for the skilled teams, and the Rangers have a bunch of skill.

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  • The last thing that this team needs is the Ranger D tightening up and leading the league in overall defense from this point in the season to the conclusion of this season!…..Heck then we would never be able get rid of Ruff….lol…..

  • Thanks Dave. Hockey tactics and systems breakdowns are the bread and butter of this site. This is good stuff.

  • What remains an appalling problem is the defense corps refusal to stand up and defend the blueline against an opponent who is 1) often alone, going 1-on-2 and sometimes 1-on-3 …. and 2) the puck carrier on a rush that is outnumbered by the NYR defensemen on hand, ie. your garden variety 2-on-3.

    These are opponents’ possessions that beg for a counter BEFORE the puck is a stride or two over the blueline. The benefit is obvious and twofold: A nothing threat is kept from developing into a genuine threat (once the zone is gained and other opponents join the play). And the forcing of a turnover — which should be 9 times out of 10 the natural occurrence of standing up at the blueline as described — leads automatically to offensive rushes the other way.

    This is hockey 101. But it has been insanely absent on far too many nights.

  • Just had a post deleted that was awfully vanilla? Can I please get an explanation? Either here or to my email? Many thanks

  • As we begin to recognize that defense is a team game, the forwards are now putting together a “system” that is better supporting the defensive collapse on the blueline. Our defensive posture is still somewhat soft, but if the forwards slow down the rush, the defenders can be better equipped to play their positions.

  • Apparently (hopefully) they are addressing the problems that are obvious. Dave Maloney has hinted and Pete Stemkowski has outright indicted the system on the air. Stemmer even called Ruff’s name out loud. His gripe was the blatant non-engagement in the neutral zone and the inevitable barrage of shots taken.

    As Dave mentioned, it remains to be seen if this is truly an amelioration of an apparent crappy system or just a blip.

  • Love Maloney and Stemmer…Great homers…….Ruff system is garbage, but our D still needs improvement and IMO we need to rid of 3/6 of our D. You can fill in the blanks……

  • Gap control, it took the Rangers a season and a half to figure that one out. But could have asked us stupid fans from the beginning and save a lot of people a lot of agita.

    Better late than never, I guess.

  • The forecheck will definitely help the defense. But I see it more once they’re all in their zone. Somehow this team collapses down to “protect the house,” and yet leaves plenty of opportunities from the slot. They’re all standing there and teams just seem to find these holes right in front on a regular basis.

    Some of the lack of engagement is coached. But this is also a very soft team. These guys don’t engage much of anything out there. You saw last night that they finally had enough. Those 2 fights saved the game for them. It changed the complexion of the game, slowed everything down, and let the boys re-group after the Isles got the jump on them. Only took half a season for them to appear angry at a poor start and actually DO something about it. So I wouldn’t blame their soft-shell on systems so much. Almost no one on the roster naturally engages any opponent, outside of Lemieux… and he is very noticeably out of the lineup right now. Quinn has basically been griping about this as a team issue since he got here.

    • Haley receiving 15 straight punches to the head was really a crucial, crucial moment for the Rangers. Haley should play on the first line, his eating of fists was far more significant than Panarin’s five points that night.

      • Hahahaha…. I know it’s hard for some to understand the rough aspects of the game. But if you cannot recognize the difference those two incidents had in slowing the game down, then not sure you’re understanding anything in this game outside of stats. It was an extra long time-out that let the NYR re-group… AND it took out one of their heart and soul guys. But probably had no effect, right? Laughable. It doesn’t fit neatly into your “fan”cy stats, so it may be hard for you to really get it. But this also isn’t fantasy hockey and things like that do impact the game.

        (Can’t believe we now have to explain the physical side of the game to “hockey fans”)

        • Haley got killed in that fight. Nothing positive came from it. The Smith fight was the same. Only thing positive was it took both Martin and Smith out of the game.

          I am no hater of fighting. I’d like to see it out of the game though, because of the high potential for injury and concussion. So don’t assume I’m someone who isn’t entertained by a good scrap in a good situation. Staged fight garbage, right off the draw, 2 faceoffs in a row? Got no time for that, I think it’s BS.

  • Great analysis. I appreciate the write-up.

    i will have to start visiting more often.

    I looked for a podcast, but it seems you guys quit doing that.

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