As a Rangers fan we all know every single time in any situation, whether preseason, regular season or playoffs, where our Blueshirts are favored or expected to win a game/series it never comes easy as expected. We as a collective are always seated with our asses half on/half off our chairs waiting with bated breath for the next time our beloved team rips our hearts from our chest. This Senators series is no exception.
This isn’t the standard “do not panic”/”it’s only game 1” blog I’m writing here. This is the Rangers better wake hell up or else we’re gonna be looking forward to turn dogs after wrapping up the front 9. No, this does NOT mean we need Tanner Glass injecting his talentless, gritty style of play into the Ranger fourth line. Where the Rangers need to improve is in the Neutral zone.
Guy Boucher and his coaching staff deploys a 1-3-1 neutral zone trap – reminiscent of Jacque Lemaire’s Devils team throughout the late 90s, early 2000s. Its a slow, sometimes excruciatingly boring brand of hockey, but the fact of the matter is… it works. Especially against a team asking a listless Kevin Hayes to meander into the zone until he shovels a backhander to the side of the crease but close enough to the goalie where we set up the opposition for an easy breakout.
The 1-3-1, as outlined beautifully in the NHL94 style graphic, is a system that forces the opposition to one side of the ice with a forward while the defenseman slides up on the play to close the gap. It regularly slows play and forces a ton of dump ins. Which you might think would play right into the Rangers favor with Vigneault style of offense. But unfortunately, we aren’t exiting the defensive zone with enough momentum, nor entering the offensive zone with enough speed.
Our breakouts have been regularly staaled (see what I did there) by bad first passes to wingers who are closed in on too quickly to make a decision that breeds offense. That first pass is instrumental to gaining speed and driving momentum down the ice. With that, even if Ottawa is playing sound positionally – which they more often than not do in the neutral zone – a simple dump-in with momentum will force the weak Ottawa defense into committing costly mistakes, just like we saw on the Jeper Fast goal last series verse Montreal.
The game plan is a simple one, but in order to execute it we need to use a blend of smart and hustle hockey and the Rangers should be able to find the twine more then 2x a game. The guys I would look to as puck carriers would be, Vesey, Grabner, Miller, and Krieder. And as for Miller and Krieder (two of our most important contributors) their games have just not been there.
So the message is simple – breakout with speed, transition with speed, forecheck with speed, and speed is most definitely our game.
Let’s take Game 2 in Ottawa and bring it back to the Garden knotted at 1.