Consistency with new system eluding Peter Laviolette’s Rangers
Head coach Peter Laviolette has now had one full training camp and four regular season games to get the New York Rangers up to speed on the new implementation of his systems. The team currently sit with a 2-2-0 record. Having seen two incredible performances paired with two concerning ones, it is safe to say that the Blueshirts are still trying to get up to speed.
The season opener against Buffalo was a dominating win in which the Rangers were defensively sound and capitalized on their scoring chances when they were given. Against Arizona in the home opener, the Rangers once again dominated defensively, with some help from Igor Shesterkin, who stopped a penalty shot in the third period.
Looking back, we can call the Columbus game a fluke. While there were some alarming mistakes on both sides of the ice, two early disallowed goals disrupted the momentum and flow of the game, and the Rangers could not quite recover. Playing 50 solid minutes and losing because of a poor 10 is no reason to hit the panic button.
Thursday night’s performance against Nashville, however, is certainly cause for concern. The Rangers looked a step behind all night, gave up too many odd man rushes, and were once again dominated by a faster team.
“I thought our speed was off, our compete was off,” said Laviolette. “We’ve talked about playing a game that goes north fast and took that away from ourselves with puck decisions that slowed things down turning pucks over and going the wrong way.”
Peter Laviolette looking for New York Rangers consistency
Over these first few games, the new system that Laviolette has put in place has been very noticeable in multiple areas of the ice. Especially in the hard-fought win over Arizona. Possibly the most noticeable aspect being the 1-3-1 trap that the Rangers have been running in the neutral zone. Rangers’ fans can recall losing to the Ottawa Senators in the 2017 playoffs when they were unable to figure out how to solve that same system.
When performed correctly, the 1-3-1 or neutral zone trap allows teams to clog the middle of the ice, force turnovers, and quickly turn defense into offense by pushing transition. This style of play can be incredibly difficult to play against. When poorly executed, the Rangers have been getting exposed in all three zones.
“I thought it was a lot better from a 5-on-5 standpoint. I thought it was tighter. There is a of couple things that we’ll talk about where we got caught,” Laviolette explained after the win against Arizona. “I think it’s a long road. We don’t have to be perfect tonight. We want to win the game, but we don’t have to be perfect. It is getting better and better.”
The Rangers clearly have some work to do with a five-game western road trip coming up. Having strictly run a 1-2-2 over the last several years, switching up the systems can come with a large period of adjustment that is riddled with mistakes. These mistakes have been put on display from time to time through four games. That being said, it is a work in progress.
“We’re picking it up right now. We’re doing a better and better job of it. It seems like we’re doing a good job of clogging up the neutral zone and not giving teams the option of carrying the puck in a lot, they’re having to dump it. Just something we’re trying to get better at,” explained defenseman Ryan Lindgren.
The adjustments for the Rangers’ defense extend much further than the neutral zone trap. Another noticeable aspect has been the aggressiveness of the blueliners, both in the offensive zone and neutral zone. “When you get a chance to jump up, (Laviolette) wants everyone getting involved, so that’s something that us defenseman are trying to do,” Lindgren went on to say.
The Rangers’ defense has still been adjusting to this aspect. Knowing when to be aggressive or when to stay put can be a tricky decision, as highlighted by the Jason Zucker breakaway that led to a penalty shot versus Arizona and the numerous odd man rushes given to Nashville on Thursday.
“Nope, we got the system,” Chris Kreider dismissed the notion that they were not grasping what Laviolette was looking to implement.
“We’ve got to move our feet, win battles, and work smart too. [The Predators] came out of their zone pretty clean. We can’t really establish a forecheck when you give a puck-moving goaltender like [Juuse Saros) opportunities to jumpstart their breakout. It wasn’t just that, as there were a lot of things we could’ve done better.”
It is also worth noting how much of an advantage this system gives the Rangers when they are backstopped by Igor Shesterkin. Laviolette’s system is all about denying the middle of the ice both in the neutral zone and defensive zone. By limiting high danger scoring chances and keeping shots to the outside, it allows Shesterkin to make the simple stops. There is only so much he can do when facing a multitude of high danger scoring chances.
A prime example of how it can all fall apart was in the game against Nashville. “We gave up eight odd man rushes and two breakaways and you’re just not going to find success unless you button that up,” Laviolette explained following the loss.
On the bright side, the Rangers still have 78 games remaining to tighten things up and learn the systems by heart. A positive note is that the Rangers have impressed at times and still have plenty of room for improvement.
“I think we’re starting to get it,” said Mika Zibanejad. “It keeps getting better. At the same time, I think we have things to work on. It’s a lot easier when the things we want to be good at are clicking right now. Not to the fullest, but definitely heading toward the right direction.”
It is hard to gauge where the team is at thus far. The Rangers have shown great signs through the first four games of the regular season. They have also shown signs that they still have plenty of work to do. As the players get more comfortable within the systems of Peter Laviolette, the level of play should only continue to improve.