This is definitely going to be an interesting season covering NYR’s x’s and o’s, as coaching changes always bring about new looks and different styles of play. And while I was indeed a pro-Torts guy, I’m looking forward to seeing what AV and his staff have up their sleeves.
Today we’re just going to cover even strength play, since I know these tactic posts can get a little lengthy and I always prefer brevity over anything robust. Next week I’ll focus on the power play and the kill.
With that said, make no mistake. Although AV isn’t completely overhauling the way they play, there are some key differences. It’s going to take a while for everything to come together, so…hold fast.
Offensive Zone Strategy
If Tortorella’s system could be summarized into one sentence, it would be described as skating intensive and physical. AV hockey on the other hand is really about two things: passing and overloading. Although the execution has been inconsistent and sporadic in the early goings here, he definitely wants his guys making crisp passes and he wants them to be positionally outnumbering the opposition on one side of the ice.
If you look at the picture above, the Rangers first worked a moderately aggressive 1-2-2 forecheck. Also notice how all five Rangers are to the left of center ice (the drawn redline). The idea is to limit the opponent’s time with the puck and hopefully generate a turnover. Ultimately if a turnover can be created, it’ll likely be an odd man situation since their aim is to outnumber the enemy at all times.
The flaw in this setup is that you leave the weakside of the ice exposed. If the opposition is able to get a cross-ice pass through, it can lead to odd man rushes in your goalie’s direction, which is what we’ve been seeing since preseason began. However, everything just hasn’t clicked yet.
This is a slightly different way to pursue the puck than Torts’ 2-1-2 spread forecheck, which was a very aggressive strategy. However, the 2-1-2 spread is more taxing physically since 2 or 3 guys are hunting the puck below the dots and need to make a hit to cause the turnover. With the 1-2-2 that AV deploys you only have one guy down low stirring it up, so the majority of the forecheck takes place a little higher in the zone.
Although we’ll still see the 2-1-2 deployed on occasion under AV (depending on personnel and game situation), it will likely be more of an overload/stacked 2-1-2 (first 2 forwards in forecheck the same lane) rather than Torts’ traditional spread formation (first 2 forwards in approach from opposite wings).
Defensive Zone Strategy
Different zone, same strategy. Count how many Rangers are on the strong side of the ice. Yes, that’s all five guys again. This is the defensive zone overload, which follows the same concept as our offensive zone strategy: outnumber the enemy.
This too is a risky system because you have half your team playing man on man coverage and half your team playing more of a tight zone defense. With the amount of switching of roles that goes on in today’s NHL, it’s easy to get confused with who should be where. Also, if the opposition is able to hit that cross ice pass to the weakside, then you’re likely giving up a quality chance to the enemy point man.
The key here is the weakside forward (in this case Rick Nash). He has to be able to get back to the middle to defend the slot if his teammates lose possession cleanly. The good thing about the overload defense though is that once you recover the puck, you’re in a good position to breakout with short, quick passing plays.
AV also rolls this strategy into a more passive low zone collapse to protect the slot if the puck ends up below the hash marks, which is what most teams do in that situation. Fans should be familiar with this strategy as Torts pretty much used the low zone collapse exclusively. Under AV, the forwards still don’t challenge the points, but seem to come out a little further to get into lanes.
Defensemen Joining The Play
The one similarity between Torts and AV is that they both want to activate their defensemen in offensive situations. Both want their blueliners to be good skaters and looking to join the play. I think our d-men will join the rush a little bit more under AV than they were under Torts, so you’ll likely see more four man rushes. However, it seems this new system won’t need the defense getting in on the forecheck as much.
The biggest difference I see with the d-men is the outlet pass. It seems AV wants these guys to make quick passes up ice, rather than controlled breakout plays starting from behind our own net. Obviously opposition forechecking pressure usually influences whether or not you’re looking for a controlled breakout, but from the early goings the quick pass/give-and-go seems preferred over soft chips, D-to-D reverses, or even lugging the puck up ice.
Playing with the lead (updated)
Unfortunately, we haven’t seen what the Rangers do with the lead just yet and I’ll be sure to update this post once we do. However, it should be noted I’m not a fan of falling back into neutral zone traps once you go up by a goal or two. This is something many Canucks fans complained about AV’s system in Vancouver and I would agree with them. I don’t like traps at any point in a game, so hopefully AV changes it up here and always encourages puck pursuit like Tortorella.
A little further into the season now, and we’ve finally seen the Rangers get a few leads. The Rangers tend to keep one or two forwards high in the third period if they have a late lead. It can still lead to more offense of course, but they’re a bit more selective with when to take chances in deep and will be less aggressive on the forecheck.
Overall, some of these systems are a bit different from the previous regime. There’s been a lot of mental mistakes thus far since the boys definitely have to make reads and count enemy jerseys a bit more, but they’ll get it eventually.
And while I certainly wouldn’t classify any of this as “wide open hockey” —which MSG Network keeps propagating for some reason—I do think most of this roster has the ability to adapt to a different style of play. Keep the faith, we’ll get there.