Former Coach John Tortorella finally has aided us in putting to bed any withdrawal symptoms that may have lingered from his departure. His meltdown against the Calgary Flames resulting in a 6 game suspension is now in stark contrast to the calm, winning ways your 2013-2014 New York Rangers now exhibit under Coach Alain Vigneault. The comparisons between the 2 coaches continue to be made, particularly with the different “systems” accounting for the Rangers’ early season difficulties now turned to consistently good performances.
We’re told over and over again that Vigneault inspires an offense first, puck possession game. This is offered in contrast to the shot blocking, defense first posture the Rangers had under “Torts”. It took roughly half a season for the rangers to adjust to this change, while supposedly Henrik Lundqvist faced more shots with less being blocked, and the team transitioned from zone defense to man to man.
Yet, the Rangers themselves assert that their recent good play begins with defense. Learning to be responsible in your own zone, thwarting the opposition, is the genesis for the offense they create. Back checking is as important as ever so that the forwards assist the defensemen, and the breakouts, with speed, can start from there. This leads to puck possession and ultimately a strong cycle and fore-check.
Under “Torts”, when the Rangers were at their best, they also fore-checked mercilessly, back-checked and exhibited being in such great shape that being able to both relentlessly fore and back-check gave them an advantage come third periods. Well you know what; the Rangers are now talking about being in better shape than the opposition in the third period.
Not to minimize the adjustment needed to shift from zone coverage to man to man, which certainly took a while, but the Rangers are now emerging as a strong defensive unit, having yielded 9 goals in their last 7 games for a 6-1 run.They are not blocking as many shots, but the coverage is still stifling the opposition. Some games it seems that teams have no room to maneuver. This is thankfully how the opposition appears, not the streaking Rangers. Tonight begins the first of 3 games the Rangers will play against the New York Islanders in 10 days’ time. No matter how well or not these 2 teams are doing, the games always prove to be competitive. Let’s hope the Rangers continue to bring a powerful weapon to the fight: strong defense!