Around December/January, right as the NY Rangers were turning it on, their forecheck appeared to change. They were much more assertive and aggressive when pressuring deep. This was a primary factor in their sharp turnaround at that point in the season. The aggressiveness caused chaos for the opposition, but it’s also something the Carolina Hurricanes, given their makeup, can exploit.
The Current System
The NY Rangers run a 2-1-2 forecheck, which sends F1 and F2 in very deep, sometimes both behind the blue line, to pressure the puck. F3, usually the center, reads the play and jumps in to force the turnover. This moves D1, usually the more offensively inclined defenseman, to support around the blue line. This gives the Rangers pressure and options if they force the turnover while still accounting for a successful breakout.
Another side effect is that the defense is closer to the blue line if the breakout is successful. That means more stable gap control through the neutral zone, something the Rangers have struggled with for most of the season. The aggressiveness worked for the Rangers.
Carolina’s Puck Moving Defensemen
The examples in the linked post above are against the Islanders, a team that lacks puck moving defensemen. An aggressive forecheck like the 2-1-2 usually wreaks havoc against teams that can’t transition well. Very few NHL teams have enough puck moving depth to sustain consistent forechecks. The problem is, Carolina does.
Carolina sports eight defensemen that move the puck well. There’s an argument to be made that Brady Skjei is the worst of the bunch, which speaks volumes of their puck moving depth. Puck movers also usually come with quick decision making and make good reads. It’s why they are good puck moving defensemen.
Quick decision making with crisp passing breaks an aggressive forecheck. Depending on how deep F3 is, Carolina can very quickly turn this forecheck into an odd-man rush against. This rings especially true if they are outletting to the Svechnikov-Aho-Terravainen line.
The Rangers Counter
The good thing for the Rangers is that Carolina isn’t that balanced up front. Outside of that dangerous top line, the Canes have question marks. Don’t get me wrong, players like Nino Niederreiter, Martin Necas, Vincent Trochek, and Justin Williams are skilled in their own right. They just aren’t nearly as skilled as their top line. It isn’t a stretch to say the Rangers have a better top-six.
While the Canes have a significantly better blue line, their scoring depth is a weakness. This is where F3, D1, and D2 come into play. If (when) F1 and F2 don’t force a turnover on the forecheck, the Canes lack of skill up front can be exploited into turnovers. This again goes into adjustments and knowing who is on the ice. Over aggressiveness against that top line will be certain death. But pressuring the forward depth could be the path to a win.
Coaching is going to be a huge part of this series. With two months to prepare, each coach will know the ins and the outs of their opponent. The Canes have the tools to perfectly counter the NY Rangers’ aggressive forecheck. Conversely, the Rangers have another counter to limit their risk. This series will be about limiting risk.