The best defense is a good offense. Write that down somewhere, because you’ll probably need it frequently in the coming season watching the Rangers. The process of dismantling Tom Renney’s version of the Blueshirts has well and truly progressed this Summer, and you’re not likely to see the Rangers amongst the league leaders in goals against or penalty kill.
Under Tortorella you’re unlikely to see the fourth line out there for the last shift of the game, or facing up against the opposition’s best lines at even strength. The reason? Well for one, the new coach doesn’t really believe in using four lines, and he believes even less in players who are simply strong defensively.
If you look at the team the Rangers have assembled this off-season, it’s almost all about adding offense. Gone are the Rangers’ two top penalty killing forwards (in ice time, if not ability) – Blair Betts and Fredrik Sjostrom. In fact, if you look at the Rangers’ PK from last year, five of the eight forwards who averaged 45 seconds or more short handed time each game are gone.
Replacing them are Christopher Higgins and Marian Gaborik. Higgins was one of the key PKers in Montreal – 2nd amongst forwards in short handed ice time per game – and will likely take one of the vacated spots. Gaborik also averaged a steady 55 seconds a game short handed, and certainly would be the kind of guy you’d want out there towards the end of a kill. After those two, the pickings are kind of slim.
The quintet of Enver Lisin, Tyler Arnason, Brian Boyle and Donald Brashear combined for a total average of 36 seconds of short handed time per game, with most of that – 34 seconds – coming from Lisin.
That is of course not to say that the Rangers’ PK is going to suddenly drop to amongst the worst in the league, but there’s definitely some question around how effective it’s going to be.
The transition to more of an offensive line-up, and some new blood on defense will also likely have an impact on the team at even strength. While the Blueshirts were in the middle of the pack when it came to average shots given up per game – 29.7/15th – they were able to keep the goal totals relatively low, finishing sixth in the league in goals against average with 2.66 given up a game.
If the Rangers are to even approach that mark in the upcoming season, then they will need goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to step up along with improvements from their top four defenders.
It’s not really surprising though.
If you look back at the teams Tortorella coached after the lockout, they consistently averaged more than three goals against – 3.17, 3.18 and 3.26 respectively. But then again, that was with the likes of John Grahame, Sean Burke, Marc Denis and Johan Holmqvist in net.
So now we really get down to the crux of this off-season’s strategy: improve the offense, add some new blood and hope that Lundqvist can bail them out. This certainly worked for coach Tortorella when he had Nikolai Khabibulin in net and a Tampa team that ranked 12th defensively in the league in 2002-03 and 10th in the year they one the cup.
Clearly the thinking is that if the Rangers can score more goals, they’ll be able to improve their odds of winning simply by avoiding those close one-goal games – and the successful, though nail-biting shootouts.
So when Kotalik turns over the puck in the neutral zone, when Lisin misses his coverage or when Donald Brashear takes a stupid penalty and the PK gives up the goal, the idea behind it all is that the best type of defense is a good offense.