With all of the star power and the big names currently on the New York Rangers roster, Head Coach Peter Laviolette has been sure to keep defense a focus for this group.
In the 2022-23 season under Gerard Gallant, the Rangers finished 4th in the NHL in goals against per game, yielding 2.63 last season.
In terms of shots against per game, the club was around the same in league rankings, finishing 6th in the NHL (29.3 shots against per game).
However, according to Natural Stat Trick, the club finished 22nd in high-danger chances against per 60 minutes in the 2022-23 campaign at 5-on-5 play (12.51).
Essentially, the Rangers didn’t yield many opportunities to score, but those they did allow were of high quality.
The Peter Laviolette impact
With Peter Laviolette now behind the bench, the club’s focus has shifted.
Gone are the days of relying on one of the aforementioned stars in Igor Shesterkin, to lock down the goal and throw away the key.
The team is playing cohesively. They are checking their man in the defensive zone (most times).
More importantly, the Rangers are controlling the pace of play, owning the puck for long stretches of game time.
The result is 2nd best goals against per game (2.00). The Rangers have allowed 1 goal or fewer in 5 of their eight games thus far, emerging victorious in all five contests.
Their 3rd period defense has been even more spectacular. The club has allowed 3 goals against in the final frame so far, tied for the fewest goals allowed in the final frame by any club.
The club has cut high-danger chances against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 by nearly two and a half chances against per game from last season to this season (10.29 this year).
For a team that features the likes of Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox, Chris Kreider, and the rest of the crew, sound defensive structure isn’t what might typically come to mind.
Yet, Laviolette has this team humming. They are playing as a unit.
Laviolette employs a system where the defensemen are encouraged to push forward, be aggressive, and make pinches in the offensive zone.
Other than the occasional miscue, the forwards have been responsible, making sure they cover for their defensive counterparts when the occasion arises.
Of course, it helps to have one of the best netminders in the world in Igor Shesterkin, backstopping the team.
Laviolette hasn’t shown the stubbornness that likely cost Gerard Gallant his job, either. Last season, Gallant refused to mix the defense pairs up.
The Fox-Ryan Lindgren duo and the Jacob Trouba-K’Andre Miller pair were joined at the hips under Gallant.
This time around, there are five different pairs to total more than 12 minutes together at 5-on-5 (all stats via Natural Stat Trick).
Before you ask, yes, the Trouba-Miller (118:50 mins. time on ice) and Fox-Lindgren (94:00 mins. time on ice) pairs have totaled the most ice time to date.
But the Fox-Erik Gustafsson combo has gotten its fair shake (25:23 time on ice together).
So it is clear that Laviolette seems willing to try new things on the defensive side of the puck, something his predecessor failed to do.
It remains to be seen if the club can continue their strong defensive play. It cannot be denied that the initial results are promising.