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Rangers Must Be Better in Neutral

by Ohio Digital News

A hockey rink is made up of three zones. The offensive zone, defensive zone and a pivotal area called the neutral zone.

It’s not the “Forbidden Zone” from the “Planet of the Apes” movies, it’s not the “Phantom Zone” from the Superman comics, but it’s the neutral zone where the puck is up for grabs for either team. Whichever team can command possession and control in that area, that team usually has a better chance to win the game.

In game 1 on Wednesday night, the Rangers were overwhelmed by Florida’s forecheck, but they did not win many battles for puck possession in the neutral zone. They were sloppy with the puck in all three zones but particularly in the neutral zone and that allowed the Panthers to gain the offensive zone and execute their relentless forecheck.

If you look back at the Rangers wins this season, they won many of the 50-50 battles for puck possession in the neutral zone. In their losses, they did not win many of those battles and that was the case in game 1.

There was adjustments that we made in the Carolina series systematically because I didn’t like what I was seeing,” Coach Peter Laviolette said. “I didn’t like how it was coming at us and so we changed parts of our game, big parts of our game to try and make up for that but I didn’t feel it was that last night [Wednesday]. I feel like it’s on us to play a better game inside of how we go about our business on the ice.”

The Rangers have to be much better with their overall game tonight if they hope to win game 2 and that includes being much better in the neutral zone. A rush to the net does not begin in the offensive zone. Most times it starts in the neutral zone.

I think limiting their speed throughout the neutral zone trying to get holdups and try to give us a little bit more time breaking the puck out of the D-zone,” K’Andre Miller said on the off day as the Rangers reflected on what went wrong Wednesday night.

Miller cited better communication as a key to making that happen. “I think we can talk a little bit more,” he said. “When teams are coming that hard and pressuring you, that type of energy, breaking down their forecheck with talking and puck moving and just trying to be a little bit more firm. Our execution can be a little bit better coming out of the d-zone. Using our voices a little bit more and communicating can be a big portion of that.”

It starts with the forecheck, just making it harder for their d [defense] to get to the puck first. To make that first play to get out of the zone,” Barclay Goodrow said. “As forwards we can do a better job getting on that D and creating turnovers and from there just trying to get more pucks to the net. Making it harder on [Florida goalie Sergei] Bobrovsky. He’s a good goalie if he sees pucks, life’s easy he’s going to make most of those saves so just making life more difficult on him.”

Goodrow cited an important factor in getting pucks to the net. That’s what the Rangers did in the third period of game 6 vs. Carolina and that’s what they need a lot more of against Florida tonight.

Some of the Rangers bad habits resurfaced in game 1.

Sloppy stick work, too many East-West and rink wide pass attempts instead of playing a simple North-South game and trying to create offensive plays from their own zone instead of the primary objective which is to clear the puck and create a rush of their own beginning in the neutral zone.

There will probably be a lineup change as Laviolette has some options. The great hockey writer, Larry Brooks, wrote a column today suggesting Matt Rempe should be in the lineup because of the physicality and spark he can provide. Brooks cited the legal but hard hit by former Ranger Niko Mikkola on Filip Chytil with five seconds left in regulation Wednesday night. Brooks wondered why Chytil was even on the ice at that point of the game. The fact Chytil, who missed six months after suffering a concussion, was benched for most of the third period in a one goal game puts into question why he was even in the lineup for game 1.

As Brooks indicated, this Ranger team can’t be like the one 50 years ago that failed to answer Dave Schultz’s beatdown of Dale Rolfe in game 7 of their Stanley Cup Semi-Final series against the Philadelphia Flyers (aka “The Broad Street Bullies”), an event that became a black mark in Rangers history.

Even if Rempe is in the lineup, Florida’s Matthew Tkachuk figures to be his usual physical self. Maybe a Jacob Trouba patented hard hit would be just what it takes to wake up the Garden crowd.

Bottom line is that the Rangers have to play much better tonight to avoid going down two games to none against a team that played in the Cup Final last season and feels they’re on the way to completing a mission.

This is the first time the Rangers have been behind in a series this post season but they’re banking on the resilience that they’ve shown all season long.

Throughout the year we’ve done a good job of responding after losses,” Adam Fox said. “Realizing what you were lacking in the game before, whether it’s execution, urgency especially in the playoffs those wins feel even better and the losses feel even worse. I think just understanding that urgency and responding for a big game. Lav’s [Coach Laviolette] done a great job of making adjustments and watching, seeing what we were lacking, coming out and being stronger in that portion of the game the following game.”

The post Rangers Must Be Better in Neutral appeared first on NY Sports Day.

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