Hockey Tactics

Solving inconsistency a key for Rangers

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

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.

Consistently Inconsistent

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.

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  • And this is where you team leadership needs to set the standard for what is acceptable in practice and in games.

    Glad/sorry to hear that giving up the blue line wasn’t a conscious choice. Glad because it was a dumb idea, sorry because as a coach, HOW DO YOU LET THAT FESTER THAT LONG?!?!

  • Consistency is one of the reasons I hope to see Chytil and Kakko play together on the third line for some time. A best-case but realistic scenario is that they gain chemistry and make each other better, which would check a number of present and future boxes.

    • Yeah Kaako should be on the 3rd line with Chytil right now. Laf is already showing he should be in the top 6. A Chytil/Kakko 3rd line can be dangerous in time.

  • This is basically the way they played throughout most of the second half of the season last year … so yes, they are inconsistent but one could argue that they’re getting consistently more consistent, at least over the course of the last 30-40 or so games they’ve played. What leaves a bad taste though in all our mouths is the fact they they got swept by Carolina and followed that up with a stinker of a performance in the opener — so pretty much 4 straight “bad to mediocre” games and that might taint our viewpoint of what they are clearly in the process of becoming.

  • Yeah, I mean it’s too easy to blame the goalie and the D men for goals against, but the fact of the matter is that it all starts in the neutral zone.

    Allowing the opponents to come through it unimpeded causes big problems for the back end.

    The Rangers’ forwards were great last night. Kakko got a goal but he, Chytil, and DG were magnificent the whole game in their defending. They got rewarded with the take away and resulted in Kakko’s goal. Well done, all around.

    • That third line reminds me of Zuke, Pouliot, and Brassard. It can be a matchup nightmare for opponents since they have to focus on the top 2 lines.

  • Last nights performance is why Quinn needs to be replaced with a quality NHL coach. The talent is there, he doesn’t know how to lead it. Still married to “traditional North American “ hockey guys like Strome, Howden and JJ. He is the weak link and JD will make a change, even if after this season.

    • Um, Howden had a pretty strong game. I just don’t hate Howden’s game, he was rushed some in part because of his own early success. I think he’ll continue to develop and although he’ll never be an “integral” player, he’s going to be a very serviceable one if utilized properly.

    • The nonsense that some Ranger fans often peddle is exemplified in spades by this remark that Quinn should be fired a theme that couch coaches always play when something they don’t like happens — such as a poor outing by the team, as in Thursday’s game. It’s always the coaches fault; they didn’t do this or that, etc. etc. I wish such fans would just settle down, take a few tranquilizers if they must and just enjoy the sport. The dislike for Quinn displayed by some is irrational. Just because he doesn’t follow their suggestions obviously irritates them. Well, their constant bellyaching irritates me.

      • I’ve been commenting on this site since the Tortorella days and the vast majority of complaints always fall on coaching staff around here. My favorite one is accusing the coach of “lack of adjustments”. Which is so incredibly vague that it literally translates to “the other team won and it has to be because of the coach”. Just wait until this team goes on a losing streak and it’s all because of “lack of adjustments”.

        I made plenty of comments towards the end of AVs tenure about how excited I was for the Rangers to just cut the cord with AV and hire the next “worst coach in existence”. Which is exactly what Quinn is to so many every time the Rangers don’t blow out the opposition.

      • I always enjoy reading the Islander fans complain and whine about the refs and everything else after a loss. But many Rangers fans are the same. Most of the complainers have never laced up the skates..And don’t no what they are talking about. DQ has done a fine job with this young hockey team. I like what he did with Tony D after his uncalled for stupidity the other night.

  • I think I went thru every emotion you can feel during a season all collapsed into a 3-day period.

    The lows, the frustration, the questions, maybe we’re too young, no hope, fire the coach, doom and gloom, but it’s only one game, they better rebound, they HAVE TO rebound, at least show SOMETHING, ok they have a pulse, not too bad, nice Buuuch, BREADMAN even better, here we go, they are alive, great win, thoughts of going deep into the playoffs.

    Whew! This season is gonna be a ride…

  • Every game is a 4 point game in the standings so if you wind up in the cellar early on this season more than ever it will be almost impossible to gain ground in the standings as teams above you simply flip flop or standings remain status quo on most nights. Add into the mix OT and a 58 game abbreviated schedule and the situation gets serious early on.

    IMHO I think as Ranger fans we all know this and that’s why we are in “mid season form” with our criticisms and analyses right off the bat. The Playoff Bubble mentality didn’t end with the first round loss to Carolina – it just restarted again for at least 58 games.

    One thing I will say is that I do miss going to MSG to see the team, the atmosphere and excitement is unmatched in the NHL – hitting NYC bars for pregame dinner and drinks after work and then channeling my built up frustrations from work into LGR chants and singing the Goal Song. Hopefully that will return some day soon but for now appreciate the opportunity to discuss/ debate the team on this blog with best fans in the NHL!

    LGR!

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