Wednesday, May 08, 2013

N.Y. Rangers: Connecting The Dots - Game Four Tonight


2012 - 2013
Eastern Conference Quarter Finals
Washington Leads Series 2-1
I - WAS 3; NYR 1
II - WAS 1; NYR 0*
III - NYR 4; WAS 3
Washington Capitals

NEW YORK RANGERS - What Does A Coach Do When His Team Can't Grunt Its Way To The Net?

Defensively, the Washington Capitals played a horrible Game Three.  They did.  The Caps couldn't cover the man in the slot.  Now..., was the Rangers offense clicking that well, forcing Washington out of position?  Or, was Washington's defense really that bad?  In turn, is the Rangers defense that bad, when teams streak down the slot and score on us?  I know in which direction most of us will lean, however, the truth lies somewhere in between.

When that happens to us - when the Rangers can't cover the man in the slot - like we couldn't cover the high man during overtime of Game Two, we say - They (We) Suck!  Forget the fact the game winning puck deflected off Stepan.  You know what I mean.

I have to go back to something I said on April 25th after we beat Carolina.

"THAT'S IT!" - Charlie Brown.
....Not the fact that the Rangers blew a 2-0 lead, (Good Grief!), and came back to defeat the Carolina Hurricanes in overtime, and in doing so clinched a playoff spot - I'm talking about Carl Hagelin's first period pass from the left circle to Derek Stepan filling the slot. I haven't seen that particular set up from Torts' Rangers, it seems like in...forever. The play looked similar to the crazy-ass open skating style of western conference hockey. Yech!
Like Coach Tortorella, I only say things a few times before I get pissed off.  First, I think my seven followers know I am still unequivocally in his corner.  I know the following could hypothetically curl Tortorella's nostril hairs, but, let's face it, his Rangers have been very uncreative.  First, let's give credit where it's due.  The man (Coach) mentored two rounds of call-ups.  The team had no stars to speak of, so Torts gave a group of kids a system and named one of them captain.  He turned them all into grunts who together surged forward with the power of a glacier all the way into the Eastern Conference Finals last season.  Along the way, we saw all that Coach created, and said it was good.  However, then, like now, we couldn't score.  As mystifying as it is, we get that.

Besides Glen Sather reducing Tex's Rangers from four lines to 2.5, torpedoing the team's toughness and overall balance, here is where things also went wrong - Tortorella's stubbornness.  Coach took his skill players and tried turning them into grunts too.  To date, that has translated in a bus ticket out of town for Marian Gaborik, a welcome mat into the offense of horrors for Rick Nash, and a failure to report by Brad Richards, who has been MIA throughout.  As that relates to right now, sometimes you just have to let scorers score, skaters skate, and well...let fighters fight.  No worries on that last count however, because we have no semi-skilled pugilists left.  Otherwise, I think we all can agree Coach is a rigid dude.  We get that too.  John Tortorella has been ultra-stubborn in defending his philosophy and system.  But I think even he is starting to realize sometimes you just have to take your chances and win ugly.

For the moment, we are no longer a desperate team, so there is no pressing need to over-pinch from the blue line, etc.  Easing off the original plan though, means defense gets somewhat sacrificed.  All we need is understanding and clarity.  Simply outworking teams, means simply out working teams.  It's very straight forward.  But if you don't ramp-up the offense by taking more calculated risks, there is no way of putting the opposing defense, in compromising situations.  Playing in pursuit of the perfect 1-0, or 2-1 lock-down put us in precarious situations before, and at present, we aren't out of the woods yet.  Tex's Rangers need to defend their home they way they did Monday evening - the way the Islanders almost did twice in Long Island against the Pens - with controlled, yet rabid abandon.

I've long argued that when you can't successfully GRUNT your way to the net, then offense needs to be generated from the dots.  Monday, from just outside the left circle (high on the dot) during the second period of Game Three, MattZuccs fed Derick Brassard streaking down the slot, who converted for a PP goal.  In the third period, this time from the right corner, Rick Nash fed Derek Stepan who came streaking down the slot and scored - similar to the way Stepan came down the lane against Carolina on clinching day.

Most of Washington's goals come predominantly off shots taken in open ice - specifically the high point and mid-slot.  Or, Alex Ovechkin handles on the wing, and when he reaches the dot, takes a hard cut into the middle.  So instead of playing like a bunch roaches along the boards in Game Three, the Rangers appeared to have fought fire with fire.

If you start your decent upon the net at the dots, or the general circles, you give your skilled players the time and space they need to be skillful and creative.  Think geometry - taking hard right angles from the dots, whether be it by pass or skate, creates offense.  Ovechkin does it all the time.  On the occasion the Rangers play like that, they always quickly revert back to the turtle and roaches theory within a game or so.  Torts considers that sticking to the plan.  This season, I've characterized it as stubbornness and rigidity.

Unless Rick Nash suddenly dons a red cape, or Brad Richards reports as ordered, this is an X's and O's series - Coach Torts versus Adam Oates, who has great first hand knowledge about how to get the puck into open areas of the ice.  This Rangers team needs more open ice to perform against the Caps as well, because, unfortunately, The Big Blue Glacier of last season has long melted away.

Was Game Three really by design?  I sure hope so.  We'll find out this evening.


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