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How AV is deploying the Rangers’ defense, compared to Torts

May 20, 2014, 12:50 PM EDT

Let’s just get right to the numbers.

Here’s how John Tortorella deployed his defense in 2012, when the Rangers went to Eastern Conference Final and lost to the Devils:


Note how little New York’s sixth defenseman, Stu Bickel, played per game, and how much Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal were playing.

Related PHT post from that time: Do the Rangers look tired to you?

Now, here’s how Alain Vigneault is deploying his defense in these playoffs:


Notice a difference?

Related PHT post from last week: Rangers coach says his team is fresh despite two seven-game series

Despite constant questioning on the topic, Tortorella never bought the notion that he played his top players too much. In fact, after the lockout ended in 2013, he said he planned to “play the hell out of” Girardi and McDonagh. And true to his word, he did. And after he was fired by the Rangers and hired by the Canucks, he played the hell out of Vancouver’s top players, garnering particularly poor results compared to their time under Vigneault, who didn’t have them on the ice so much.

Look, we’re not trying to pile on Tortorella here — he’s won a Stanley Cup as a coach; Vigneault still hasn’t — but the current Rangers, even with that “stupid schedule,” don’t appear anywhere close to running out of gas, and that couldn’t be said two years ago.

Granted, it’s possible New York just has more depth now, and Vigneault is the lucky recipient of that. But there’s a distinct philosophical difference there — one guy plays the hell out of his top players, the other doesn’t.

Related: Welcome back to AV’s good books, Ryan McDonagh

  1. c9castine - May 20, 2014 at 12:55 PM

    Jason, let it go man. hes fired, hes gone, and its been a full year since hes coached the rangers.

    • Jason Brough - May 20, 2014 at 1:16 PM

      You’re right. No need to look at how a coach in his first year with a team is doing things differently compared to the last guy. Completely irrelevant, especially with said team two wins from the Cup final.
      Good comment. Glad you’re here.

      • c9castine - May 20, 2014 at 1:25 PM

        “Look, we’re not trying to pile on Tortorella here…”

        Little defensive aren’t we? Didn’t realize you were so sensitive…

        its relevant but its a different squad in a different year. it always is.

      • Jason Brough - May 20, 2014 at 1:28 PM

        The thumbs have spoken.

      • c9castine - May 20, 2014 at 1:34 PM

        The thumbs dont like me Jason, never have.

        Its called “Pittsburgh syndrome”.

      • nebbah306 - May 20, 2014 at 1:41 PM

        Quick, whats the number for the closest burn unit?

      • bwayblueshirt - May 20, 2014 at 1:54 PM

        There’s a big difference in quality as well, though. MDZ was always a liability, Stralman wasn’t playing nearly as well, and would you really trust Stu Bickel with 18:00 TOI/G? Diaz, JMoore, and Klein are (in terms of talent, speed, endurance, and responsibility) lightyears ahead of MDZ, Eminger, and Bickel. Torts likes to ride his top guys for sure, but looking at who he had to work with, it’s hardly surprising. This year Stralman, Staal, JMoore, and Klein are all on the plus side of plus minus, with Mac, G, and Diaz being minuses. In 2012, only Mac, G, and Stralman were able to keep their +/- above zero (I use +/- instead of adv. stats because I can’t find them anywhere for 2012. Perhaps Elias has them for you to examine). Bottom line is, Torts relied on what he had. This team is a lot deeper, and on defense, that really makes all the difference. Being able to roll three competent, responsible defensive pairs is way more beneficial/important than being able to roll 4 forward lines.

      • bwayblueshirt - May 20, 2014 at 1:57 PM

        I do like the article though. More adv. stats would be appreciated!

      • homieshome - May 21, 2014 at 5:10 AM

        Unless Jason has 117 different accounts, i’d say he has a point lol. But you did get a little sensitive, c9 wasnt trying to be a dick i dont think.. Anyways good article & valid, I was just looking at that today, this years post-season shcedule compared to the one in 2011-12. Rangers lost to the Devils fair and square but we were the better team, clearly just ran out of gas. Partially thanks to Tortorella

    • bcsteele - May 20, 2014 at 1:18 PM

      Damn, someone beat me to it…

    • biffnasty - May 20, 2014 at 2:11 PM

      You just got owned

      • c9castine - May 20, 2014 at 10:29 PM

        on what issue?

      • homieshome - May 21, 2014 at 5:19 AM

        Ok lets relax for Christ sake, he didn’t even do anything

  2. bmitchelf - May 20, 2014 at 1:04 PM

    Pretty sure the two new regular defensemen are better defenders than the ones they replaced, so Vigneault has received that, but it looks like he is cycling the forwards better, too, so it is definitely a change in philosophy.

    • jkay1818 - May 20, 2014 at 1:26 PM

      exactly, beat me to it. klein and moore are leaps and bounds better than bickell and eminger. Stralman has also progressed and turned into a better player.
      people knocked that klein for del zotto deal, i loved it. he is a good skater who plays a nice stay at home game. You rarely hear from him and that’s a good thing. once in a blue he joins the rush which isn’t so horrible either.
      Moore is also better than del zotto in my opinion from a consistency basis.

      the numbers are also skewed due to the fact the NYR in the 2012 season played a few OT games including a triple OT in washington. he left some of his top d men out there for over 30 mins.

      • buckhome - May 21, 2014 at 7:14 AM

        Who among Ranger fans knocked that DelZotto for Klein deal? None that I know. Did the Canadian media knock it?

  3. c9castine - May 20, 2014 at 1:37 PM

    Defense is in a different place than it was last year. Its deeper, little more experienced. Same could be said for the forward group.

    But having 3 guys over 25 minutes a game is absurd. Totally unsustainable. I would say any coach other than Torts wouldnt do that. I wonder how often a teams top few defensemen have played that much in a series. Cant be many examples of that.

    p.s. its a hockey forum…learn to take a little ribbing.

    • bwayblueshirt - May 20, 2014 at 2:40 PM

      Chicago’s top four d-men all average between 22:32 and 27:35 TOI/G. They’ve been a losing team recently, right?

      • c9castine - May 20, 2014 at 10:37 PM

        ok well only Keith averages over 25 minutes per game so maybe go back and read my post and then rethink your smartas answer.

    • patthehockeyfan - May 20, 2014 at 2:45 PM

      Drew Doughty (LA Kings) has averaged 25:09 on the ice since he joined the Kings in the 2008 – 2009 season.

      For the playoffs beginning in the 2009 – 2010 season (and including the current playoffs), it’s an average of 27:08.

      Not saying you’re wrong; but, there are a few defensemen (at least one) who play that much (for other coaches).

      Kinda had your head handed to you up there, no, c9? Chill. I enjoy reading your comments.

      • c9castine - May 20, 2014 at 10:32 PM

        lol no i didnt…i was giving him a hard time because hes been on an anti-torts crusade for about a whole year now.i dont blame him, just thought id have a little fun (impossible herei guess) too many people acting like little girls in here cant take a joke, him included.

        thats one defenseman. i was saying how many teams deploy their whole top 4 that much?

  4. 33to22 - May 20, 2014 at 2:01 PM

    Def miss him in Van. Letting him go was a reactionary move by a leadership that didn’t know what else to do. He was and remains a popular and revered figure here. Good luck against the western powerhouse teams, AV – both are formidable opponents, as you well know.

    • barkar942 - May 20, 2014 at 3:02 PM

      That is a really good point you just made, 33to22. Should the Rangers clinch the East as it now looks like they should, AV really does know these Western teams well. Could spell trouble for Blom’s fantasy of the Kings being the Champs again (although the Blackhawks may take care of that even sooner).

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      and the bottom

      • blomfeld - May 20, 2014 at 3:26 PM

        NUTS !

        So said the commander of besieged American forces to the German offer of surrender at Bastogne back in December 1944 … and so I say to ‘you’ Herr Barkar here today in 2014 ! The only thing ‘Elaine’ knows about us LA Kings is the fact that we whopped his sorry Canuckle ass two years in a row ! Yes sir ! And we’re gonna do it again this year, you just mark my words !

        GO KINGS GO !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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        1) Jonathan Quick
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      • wingsdjy - May 21, 2014 at 10:35 AM

        You forgot one, blom:

        666) Miroslav Satan

  5. stakex - May 20, 2014 at 2:51 PM

    Yeah this is pretty meaningless, and the original story fails to mention a key point: The Rangers played five OT games in 2012, including a triple OT game, compared to just one short OT so far this season. That no doubt skews the numbers a little bit.

    Also, if AV was the coaching in 2012 the numbers would probably look fairly similar. Bickel wasn’t very good at the NHL level, and Stralman was just starting to find his stride that year. AV has the luxury of a better, deeper, defensive group that has more experience than they did in 2012.

    • Jason Brough - May 20, 2014 at 3:05 PM

      Marc Staal disagrees that it’s meaningless:
      “…being able to roll four lines and three pairs on D makes a huge difference…It gives you time to recover on the bench, which is so important…. It’s a little different look from us, isn’t it?”

      • justinpecora50 - May 20, 2014 at 5:41 PM

        I agree completely. The Rangers weren’t able to roll 4 lines and the Devils were and as a result Carter KILLED us. This is a very, very different team. the fact that they use a 4th line to rest the others is one thing, these guys have scored which was huge in the first and second rounds. This isn’t about just getting to the conference finals anymore, this team can win the cup!!!

  6. arrow43050 - May 20, 2014 at 3:07 PM

    Also, regardless of philosophical differences, AV was forced to spread out playing time because of the schedule. Trust me, I am much happier seeing the playing style under AV than under Torts, but I was a fan of Torts when he was here even though I could acknowledge his shortcomings, but I think if Torts had been faced with 3 games in 4 days twice he would have spread out the time more than he did, Stu Bickel or no Stu Bickel. Same thing with the forward lines. I think AV has been forced to roll 4 lines more than he would have, albeit slightly, and has been pleasantly surprised and rewarded for doing so. And yes, the depth in the bottom pair defensemen and on the 4th line is far better on this team making it easier to play them.

  7. muckleflugga - May 20, 2014 at 5:32 PM

    to state the obvious …

    whether a coach is rolling-out three lines or four, game tempo tuned to team fitness as managed from the bench is all that really matters

    if any team hooks an opponent capable of dominating puck control or dominating team speed, coupled with efficient bench management, that team can use three lines or four lines at will, all designed to exploit an opponent’s weaknesses in parallel

    lines are not necessarily fixed, with combinations of lines tweaked and altered in-game according to need … lesser teams with bench management capable of sensitive in-game maneuvering are every bit as capable of winning cups as are teams littered with stars

    regardless of adjustments made in the moment, teams with lesser third and fourth lines can be compelled out of necessity to roll three lines against a superior opponent rolling four, tiring at a greater rate in the longer game …

    or teams with lesser third and fourth lines can get caught out of cycle running four lines when a deeper opponent drops the cycle, going to three lines or less, slipping their best in on-the-fly against a third or fourth line tired and stranded

    the real trick for coaches running lines is tempo, keeping top lines and big ticket players interested and in the game while maximizing their efficiency and rhythm

    it’s all tied to player recovery and anaerobic capacity, and proportioning shifts according to work rate measured against sixty minutes and beyond

    • blomfeld - May 20, 2014 at 8:40 PM

      so true … an absolutely ‘brilliant’ analysis friend ! … :)

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