When the Rangers brought in Jacques Martin to replace departed Lindy Ruff, it was met with overall positivity. Martin had a history of defensively strong teams. The Rangers were atrocious on defense, especially the penalty kill, under Ruff’s “defensive tutelage.” But here we are today, and the Rangers are 8th in goals allowed (66) and second in the league in PK effectiveness (87.2%). Martin’s message has been simple too.
Structure (Wedge Penalty Kill)
Focusing on the penalty kill, the Rangers were downright awful for a while. The issue was the Rangers, specifically the defense, would chase the puck all over the ice. There was no structure. The idea was to pressure and force turnovers, but the personnel didn’t fit that strategy. It led to many back door chances and wide open looks from high danger areas.
The Rangers penalty kill system looks to be primarily a wedge setup, but they do rotate in a box and diamond here and there, depending on puck location. D1 and D2 stay low to cover the high danger areas, while F2 covers the high slot. F1 applies pressure. Naturally, F1 and F2 rotate pressure based on puck location.
D1 and D2 don’t just stand there if the puck gets to the goal line. D1 will rotate to the puck carrier, with D2 staying in front of the net. F1 and F2 collapse to cut off the high slot and between the dots chances.
This strategy applies pressure while not giving up prime chances.
The results have been phenomenal, but you didn’t need the above heatmap to show you that. What I wanted to focus on are where the shots are coming from. Most powerplay chances against the Rangers are at the tops of the circles and the mid-point. There’s that glob of green down low on RD as well. That may or may not be attributed to Jacob Trouba’s extended absence. More on that in a second.
The thing to focus on here is that the overwhelming majority of chances for the powerplays against are coming from low danger areas. The Rangers keep it simple, and it’s Martin’s message of not chasing that has the Rangers performing so well.
The plan and the message is simple. Do not follow the puck. Know where you are on the ice. The black lines are do not cross lines. At that point, the coverage switches and F2/D2 flip with F1/D1 for coverage.
Another big change: D2 doesn’t cross that middle line, and neither defenseman crosses the horizontal line though the faceoff dots. The defense are always low. F1 (chasing the puck) doesn’t cross the center line. At that point, F2 takes over, and F1 covers the weak side. It’s a constant flip and situational awareness.
The team results have been fantastic, but let’s focus on individual results. On defense, the Rangers generally trot out Trouba, Adam Fox, and Ryan Lindgren. The fourth spot rotates between K’Andre Miller, Brendan Smith, and Jack Johnson. This is for the majority of the PK time.
Trouba has been one of their more effective penalty killers. When he was out, that time got divvied up between Johnson, Smith, and Miller. You can see why there might be a larger shot volume from that side of the ice with Trouba out. The PK has still been stellar, but this might explain some of the larger shot volume from that side of the ice.
As for the forwards, six forwards get regular PK time.
Kevin Rooney and Brett Howden are still on the PK, despite less than stellar results. But overall, they aren’t tanking the PK that much. As a general rule of thumb, staying below the team rate (6.93) is good. Howden isn’t bad, but Rooney has been a little rough. Yet still overall, the PK is just fine.
All of this is to say that Jacques Martin has had a tremendous impact on this team. The Rangers penalty kill is among the best in the league, and it isn’t smoke and mirrors. They aren’t hiding behind great goaltending. The process is there, and this is process that carries over from year to year. Defense and killing penalties are the foundation of a winning team. That foundation is there.