Rangers speed exposing Tampa through 2 games

The Rangers speed has exposed Tampa's major weakness.

The Rangers speed has been giving Tampa fits through the first two games of the Eastern Conference Final. As much as people want to call it rust, missing Brayden Point, or whatever excuse people want to make for the Lightning, the fact is the Rangers have controlled the games against Tampa. More importantly, the Rangers speed is something Tampa cannot match.

Game 1: Cross Ice and Rush Chances

In Game 1, the Rangers dominated the Lightning through cross ice and rush chances. This doesn’t mean the Rangers got more of those types of chances, it’s that they were getting these chances themselves in volume that Tampa hasn’t previously given up.

I think it is fair to say that the cross ice pass chances, all seven of them, were due to some rust on Tampa’s side. They allowed seven all series to Toronto. Situational awareness and sticks in lanes plays a major role in cross ice pass chances, and yes lack of game situations will be a problem. But that’s only one area where the Rangers stood out. Worth noting that the Rangers allowed just two of these chances themselves.

The rush chances, all 11 of them, were a surprise. That’s almost four rush chances per period, something Tampa doesn’t usually allow.

Game 2 – Rangers speed causes problems

In Game 2, we expected Tampa to shut down those cross ice passes, and they did just that. The Rangers got just two cross ice passes for chances. This was a much better defensive effort in their own zone by Tampa.

We expected the cross slot passes to be unavailable in Game 2, and the Rangers would need to adjust. They went from 11 rush chances in Game 1 to 15 in Game 2, showing their willingness to adjust. The Rangers speed played a role here, as Tampa simply couldn’t keep up with the Rangers skill.

The Shesterkin Factor

Jack Han, who is a fantastic follow from a systems perspective, gave his theory, and it makes perfect sense. As someone who did not watch a lot of Tampa/Toronto or Tampa/Florida, it’s tough to make series to series comparisons. Jack noted that both Toronto and Florida took some of the speed and offense out of their own games in an attempt to shut down Tampa. In doing so, they made it much easier on Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The Rangers don’t do that, and that full Twitter thread has several examples of goals where the Rangers defense doesn’t seem to mind giving up odd man rushes. That is what having the best goalie in the league does to a team. They are willing to take the offensive chance and use their speed to try to break up plays and create rush chances.

Tampa is not a fast team. They are good, but they are not fast. Missing Point hurts here of course, but this goes beyond one player. The Rangers speed is creating issues for the Tampa defense and the back check. That leads to turnovers and rush chances, something Tampa hasn’t had to deal with yet. By simply not slowing down their own game, the Rangers speed sets them apart from Toronto and Florida while exploiting a major Tampa weakness.

What’s next?

With two games in Tampa looming, the Rangers will no longer have last change. Jon Cooper is a good coach, and it’s expected he will adjust to try to slow the Rangers down. I’d expect them to still try to clog the neutral zone on breakouts more, perhaps shifting away from the 1-1-3, which is getting destroyed, and more towards a 1-2-2. Leveraging Suit’s screenshots for some systems work below, but you should read his full breakdown of Tampa’s systems here.

The 1-1-3 relies on F3 reading the play, but the Rangers have been picking it apart. This has been the story so far, and F3 will get trapped and it springs the odd man rush. A more passive 1-2-2 will slow the Rangers down and clog up lanes, forcing the Rangers into more dump and chase and creating chances off the cycle. That’s a weakness for the Rangers, or at least part of a weakness.

Where the Rangers excel is that diagonal cross slot pass from the boards to the weak side defenseman. It’s what opened the initial lane on The Shift: The first pass across the diagonal, then back to K’Andre Miller, then across to Filip Chytil. Getting chances off the forecheck will be critical if Tampa does in fact shut down the Rangers speed.

Hockey is a game of adjustments and Tampa won’t go down quietly. Fully expect them to fight for their hockey lives the next two games.