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Systems Analyst: The New York Special

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The Rangers dominated the special teams battle in their regular season sweep of the Hurricanes.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at New York Rangers Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

With real life hockey quickly approaching, this column is transitioning from analyzing the classic moments in franchise history back to taking a look at the intricacies of the 2019-2020 group. With just over a week before the Hurricanes face off in the qualifying round against the New York Rangers, the next two Systems Analyst columns will look at the often discussed four regular season meetings between the two teams and what went wrong for Carolina.

This week, the focus is on special teams play. It is an area where New York thrived in the regular season matchups. The Rangers scored five power play goals in the four meetings, producing at a 33.3% clip. For comparison’s sake, the best regular season power play in the Eastern Conference belonged to the Bruins, who succeeded only 25.7% of the time.

Meanwhile, Carolina’s power play scored on just 12.5% of their tries and the penalty kill, which was fourth best in the league overall, struggled mightily against New York’s highly skilled attack.

In order to further diagnose what went wrong for Carolina, it is worth examining both the zone entries and offensive zone play for each team’s PP units.

Zone Entries

NYR Power Play

The New York power play breakout is fairly predictable and, with the exception of a few Tony DeAngelo or Jacob Trouba stretch pass attempts, rarely varies from its intended design. It consists of a puck carrier skating through the neutral zone and then dishing the puck to a streaking teammate on the boards who then enters the zone with speed.

When executed properly, it can catch a defender flat footed and lead to some excellent chances off the rush or just establish possession .

The entry can come via a puck carrier skating from his own zone through neutral ice and passing, as seen above, or through a two-line pass that is then moved to the outside, as seen below.

The Rangers even threw some misdirection at Carolina before executing the entry.

New York has shown that once they cross the red line, they aren’t going to go back across the ice with a pass to the far boards. So the Hurricanes can better stuff the New York entry by rotating over and cheating a bit to the strong side.

In the clip above, if Dougie Hamilton cheats a little further to the strong side, Hamilton can comfortably play the puck carrier if the player, in this case Kaapo Kakko, enters the zone. That would allow Brock McGinn to close off and limit Chris Kreider as a passing option along the boards.

CAR Power Play

The Rangers run a standard 1-3 penalty kill forecheck in which their lead forward pressures the Carolina puck carrier once he reaches the Hurricanes’ blue line. The forechecker then forces the puck carrier to pick one side of the ice to skate or move the puck to a teammate. Then as the power play approaches the offensive zone, they are met by three penalty killers spaced out along the blue line, slowing any momentum and preventing fast break chances.

A dump in could beat the 1-3, but it relies on the members of the power play unit to win puck races and board battles once the puck is dumped. Likely the best way for Carolina to beat New York’s 1-3 is by carrying the puck into the zone, ideally through the middle of the ice and then moving the puck back to the flanks.

Luckily the Hurricanes have several great skating defensemen and nifty forwards who could serve as the quarterbacks of the breakout. In New York, Dougie Hamilton sliced through neutral ice and then put the puck into space for Andrei Svechnikov to retrieve.

In the clip below, Jake Gardiner showcased his skating ability after a Ranger miscommunication saw all four killers on the blue line.

Gardiner makes a nice backhand pass to the flanker Jordan Staal who is able to set up.

But the Hurricanes got themselves into trouble when they would skate themselves away from the middle and towards the wall, like Ryan Dzingel does in the clip below.

Instead of using one of his teammates, Dzingel floats towards the boards, giving him fewer options, and eventually is swarmed by Rangers who force a turnover and clear the zone.

If Carolina is decisive and positioned well on its zone entries, the team should be able to break through the New York kill and set up effectively, even if they will not have as many chances off the rush.

In-Zone

NYR Power Play

The Rangers’ power play has some serious offensive firepower and they do a few things quite effectively.

Tony DeAngelo has blossomed into a true power play quarterback, manning the blue line with poise, and often shooting from the point looking for a deflection. DeAngelo has great feet and works towards the middle of the ice to find shooting lanes, often looking for sticks through traffic.

Another Ranger tendency is to overload one side of the ice and then find an open man with tons of space on the opposite side. While drifting penalty killers to one side of the ice might be advisable for Carolina to stop the Rangers’ zone entries, once they have set up, wandering penalty killers could get the Canes in trouble.

In the clip below, four penalty killers get caught watching the puck and both defensemen wind up below the goal line. When the killers collapse on Mika Zibanejad, he calmly moves the puck to open space where Artemi Panarin finishes.

The Rangers love working similar plays and lulling penalty killers into a comfort zoone before finding their Hart Trophy candidate, Panarin, open with space.

But, as seen in the clip below, if the strong side is Panarin’s, the Rangers have no problem working it around to the open man on the other side of the ice, in this case Kaapo Kakko.

It will be up to the two weak-side members of the Hurricanes’ penalty kill to stay incredibly disciplined in their position, not shifting too far away from their responsibilities on the strong side, while also being able to recover and make a play should the puck work back around to the weak side.

CAR Power Play

Let’s start with this: the New York Rangers in-zone penalty kill is not particularly good. The unit finished the regular season as the 23rd-best group in the NHL and after a review of the film, much of the success the group did have can be credited to outstanding goaltending.

That being said, the Rangers are fairly aggressive on the kill. They set up in-zone with a diamond formation, pressuring the top of Carolina’s umbrella, hoping to force a turnover on any hesitation.

But the aggressive high penalty killer also opens up plenty of passing lanes for Carolina if they are able to split Ranger forwards.

It takes both a precise pass and the awareness from the receiver to find the open space. But when executed, it can lead to some high quality chances.

The Hurricanes even found cross-ice passing lanes when the puck worked down low, as pictured below.

And before looking to force those high cross ice passes, Carolina would be wise to establish themselves down low, below the goal line. With the Rangers weak defense corps, the Canes should look to work possession down low and let their forwards take advantage of the mismatch.

Even just a quick pass down low can freeze the Ranger defense and create scoring chances.

In the clip above, you can see how slow Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba is to react and if Dzingel’s shot is better placed it could go in or create a rebound for Dougie Hamilton on the back door.

So often in the film, puck movement below the goal line caught New York off guard and created chances for the Hurricanes.

If nothing else, the puck movement low will force the Ranger penalty killers to collapse and open up even more space up top as it did on this Sebastian Aho goal from February, pictured below.

With the killers sucked in below the tops of the circles, Jaccob Slavin has time to think it over and run through several different options before moving the puck back to Svechnikov.

One of the options Carolina should continue to utilize is the high tip, where a net-front presence screens the goaltender and a second player emerges in the high slot to redirect a shot-pass from the point. In New York, the strategy earned Ryan Dzingel a goal.

In the clip below, Nino Niederreiter finds the soft spot and redirects a Jake Gardiner feed, but is robbed by rookie Igor Shesterkin.

It is a great high tip, but Shesterkin is able to cleanly track the puck the whole way with Carolina’s net front presence, now former Hurricane Erik Haula, failing to take away the goaltender’s eyes.

It will not be an easy task, but if the Hurricanes hope to advance past the qualifying round, or even just get their first win of the year against New York, they will have to clean up their special teams play.