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The Habs take on the Rangers for the second time in a week, so make sure to read some fancy stat scouting.
New York's top line is pretty impressive on paper, a paper strength New York is paying through the nose to get. To get the most out of their investment, the Rangers are taking a page out of Vancouver's book and playing them exclusively in the offensive zone, Brad Richards getting a Sedin like 69% Ozone%. His line rewards the Rangers with a 54.7% on Fenwick and 61.1% on goals, which is pretty close to what the Sedins provide for the Canucks. Concentrating your best shooters and playmakers with the most offensive zone time possible probably gives the Rangers a small natural boost to their team wide 5 on 5 shooting, much like the Sedins have as more of the shoots are done by better offensive talent.
The wrinkle the Rangers have added to the formula is to also zone boost their secondary scoring unit based around whoever is playing on Stepan's wings, he's getting 62.5% Ozone% as well. So the Rangers have decided to sharply divide responsibilities between two offensive and two defensive lines. Recently the Rangers have elected to swap Nash and Callahan which balances out the scoring and two-way play of the two top lines. Halpern and Boyle pay for this gift to the offensively gifted by taking the heavy defensive duties, Halpern with an incredible 22.4% Ozone starts while Boyle gets 31.8%. Halpern is understandably getting crushed with these minutes but Boyle is pulling off even getting even by puck possession measurements. Halpern is -2 and Boyle -3 on the year 5 on 5 playing these minutes with the benefit of Lundqvist playing behind him.
Wingers Pyatt, Hagelin and Callahan tend to rotate up and down the lineup as needed while Powe and Asham are commited to defensive duties. Hagelin and Callahan are notable for being particularly strong two-way wingers. Nash, Gaborik and Kreider when he played are exclusively offensive wingers. Gaborik is an odd case, he's normally a talented player but despite his sheltering he's not that great on puck possession and even in goals for and against.
Rangers defense is the opposite of their forwards. The top pairing of McDonagh and Girardi handle the bulk of the shutdown duties, coming out about even with Lundqvists help in goals and somewhat negative possession with 43.5% zonestarts. Then Stralman gets about 55% and Del Zotto 66% as the other two pairings get an offensive focus. Recently the Rangers have decided not to trust their two weakest defenders together and have separated Staal and Del Zotto to form two offensively oriented pairings rather than an offensive pairing and a limited minutes 3rd pairing. Both Del Zotto and Staal seem to be having a crummy possession year but are big pluses for goals.
Girardi and McDonagh have a history of playing some of the toughest minutes in the league about even and coming out ahead because of Lundqvist's goaltending. They are a pretty close comparable to the Gorges-Subban pairing for Montreal last year although the Hab's duo has probably been a hair superior. The goaltender and shutdown pairing combo make the Rangers a very tough unit to score on even strength for a large fraction of the game.
Nash- Richards -Callahan
Girardi -Del Zotto
The Rangers often prefer to use a normal 3 forward 2 defense set up to start the PP but swap in Stepan as a center and move Richards back play the point with either Girardi or Del Zotto going off. Likewise it's also not uncommon for Gaborik to replace one of the two wingers either.
Nothing has proved particularly effective and as a result the Rangers are 2nd worst in goals per hour 5 on 4 and 4th worst for shots per hour. They've only scored 5 5 on 4 goals this season and look to continue to be impotent with the man advantage unless they make a major turnaround.
Rangers run with 2 fairly equal forward units and lean heavily on a combination of Girardi, McDonagh and Staal for penalty killing. So far Halpern has been their best, the only forward to significantly knock down shots against for the Blueshirts. Del Zotto and Staal tend towards getting better results but they also face secondary units. As a team they are slightly above the mean at preventing shots and average at preventing goals. With Lundqvist in net they should trend towards being a somewhat better than average PKing team.
The downside of a zone start strategy is that they are predictable, conceding the intiative on matchups to the opponent. Plekanec and Richards probably should see a lot of each other tonight, but the key to a zone matched forward group is probably in managing the defense pairings. Markov-Emelin will likely be pressed into defensive zone duty but that would be a perfect job for a Gorges-Subban pairing. The wrinkle I'd put in if I was managing MTL's bench would be to use my 4th line in a defensive role against Stepan while having they Desharnais and Galchenyuk lines attempt to attack against their 3rd and 4th lines.
Even with Tortorella's preference for shot-blocking rather than possession defense, the Rangers are a solid possession team 5 on 5, coming in at 54.04% FenClose and 52.4% CorsiClose. Matched with a Vezina candidate goaltender this is a recipe for a very strong 5 on 5 club that would be very tough to beat there. Fortunately they are weaker on special teams with an anemic power play and ordinary penalty kill which provides the opportunity to equalize. This is exactly the kind of team Montreal needs to figure out how to beat if they want to go far this season, because this is the kind of team one faces in the post-season.