The NY Rangers dominated every facet of their shutout win yesterday against the Isles. They controlled the play from start to finish, earning Alex Georgiev the easiest shutout of his life. This was one of the only games where the Rangers didn’t allow a high-danger scoring chance in the shot-tracking era. It was a complete-180 from the first game, where the Rangers essentially no-showed. The Rangers have been plagued with bouts of inconsistency for the past few years, and it again was on display the first two games.
The difference between games one and two wasn’t just the result. It was the way they played. There were two big changes in the game, specifically about how the Rangers played.
Neutral Zone Pressure
The Rangers were on top of the Isles in the neutral zone. This forced the Isles into turnovers and dump ins. It also led to a pair of Noah Dobson turnovers, which led to Rangers goals. While these kinds of plays –the goals– are great, it’s more than just forcing turnovers.
For the past season and a half, it has appeared that the Rangers are giving up the blue line by design. The fun part is that it’s not part of the system, but a severe lack of execution. At least according to what is reported out of practice. We can debate on the coaching communication/motivation strategy another time, but at least it shows they shouldn’t be conceding the blue line.
What happened last night was that the Islanders didn’t have the time to gain speed through the neutral zone. This was a by-product of the pressure the Rangers applied. No speed through the neutral zone means no ability to gain the blue line for a controlled zone entry. When the Rangers apply neutral zone pressure, they are, as a by-product, stepping up at the blue line to prevent that entry. We may focus a lot on defensive zone coverage, but neutral zone pressure is just as important.
Neutral zone pressure has been a major component of the Rangers inconsistency to date. Perhaps this is a major turning point and lesson.
Puck support is often talked about, but rarely broken down. It’s not just about being in the same vicinity as the puck. The difference between yesterday and Thursday is the Rangers were actively finding lanes. It’s not enough to watch and be around the puck. It’s also not just about offensive zone puck support. The Rangers were a true three zone team last night.
In the defensive zone, the Rangers found open ice to allow for controlled zone exits and outlets. If the puck carrier was pressured, they’d have multiple options. One play struck me was when K’Andre Miller was pressured, and he found an outlet across the slot in the defensive zone. Normally not a good play, there were no Isles around to intercept, and the Rangers read that to give Miller that outlet.
In the offensive zone, this was about cycling, finding the open ice, and attacking it. The Rangers moved the puck much better in the offensive zone, specifically on the powerplay. The more they cycle, the less the Isles have the puck. The less they have the puck, the less the Isles can get offensive chances. Two birds, one stone.
The good thing is that the Rangers have identified what they need to do to win games. The bad thing is that, through two seasons with David Quinn, they’ve failed to do it consistently. We saw the two opposite ends of the spectrum to start the season. Thursday was the worst of the worst. Yesterday was the best of the best.
Inconsistency is going to be a problem with such a young Rangers team. However with the right process identified, it’s just going to be a learning curve. The coaching staff will need to consistently hammer home this message. It’s not going to magically solve itself after one game either. We will have a roller coaster ride this season.