Penalty Kill Adjustment Won Game Three For Rangers

Mike Green scored in overtime for the Capitals In Game Two, and while it's not the PK's fault for a 1-0 loss, they nonetheless did give up a goal in an important situation.

Fastforward to last Monday for Game Three. Not exactly the same situation occurs, but an equally important one. Up 4-3, Brad Richards got called for a penalty in the final minutes of the thid period after tapping high sticking Alexander Ovechkin. A goal would have probably meant a blown lead and yet another overtime. Instead, the Rangers this time killed the penalty off, securing the game and an all-important win to make it a 2-1 series. 

Part of the fun of the playoffs is the chess match that it becomes. It's a 4-7 game series with the same two teams facing each other, meaning that each game builds onto the next and each coach makes adjustments based on what the previous coach did. What adjustment to the penalty kill did John Tortorella make in Game Three? Keep reading for a look at that.

 

 

Here is a stillshot of Game Two moments before Mike Green scored to win it for the Capitals. 

 

The man on the puck is Mike Ribeiro. The red arrow points to where Mike Green is at the point since he is off screen in this shot. And Ovechkin is labeled as well. As right-handed shooters, Ovechkin and Green are going to position on the left side of the ice. Ribeiro and Backstrom are left-handed shooters and therefore position on the right side. The Rangers are playing a diamond formation and are having two strong-side players (Callahan and Moore)  converge on Mike Ribeiro, since he has the puck.

Of course, this leaves a ton of open ice for Mike Green and Alexander Ovechkin; the two most dangerous players on the Capitals by a wide margin. Let's see what happened next.

 

Callahan and Moore bit on Ribeiro's windup, and he made a good play to then move it to Mike Green, who is now moving in. This leaves Derek Stepan in a very bad position. Staying where he is allows him to be within range of Ovechkin but gives Green a great look at goal from a position that he is more than capable of scoring from. Converging on Green means he's leaving Alexander Ovechkin wide open in the left faceoff circle, where he is about as dangerous as any player in the NHL is from anywhere on the ice. Stepan decides to ultimately stay where he is, and Green puts away the one-timer to end the game and hand the Rangers a loss.

Let's look at the penalty kill and the end of Game Three. What looks different here?

 

The Capitals are set up exactly the same. Ribeiro on the puck with Backstrom also on the right side. Green (off screen) at the point and Ovechkin on the left side. Still a diamond formation for the Rangers penalty kill. The difference in this picture? Only one strong-side penalty killer for when Ribeiro has the puck. Moore still converges in on Ribeiro, but this time Ryan Callahan stays more or less where he is. The situation is reversed. John Moore stays where he is, and Mike Ribeiro can either shoot it or move it down low to Backstrom. But that's not what the Capitals want. Both are good players for sure, but Ovechkin and Green are their superior weapons. Those are the guys you want shooting the puck when desperate for a tying goal in the final minutes. Ribeiro kept faking shots, trying to draw the Rangers PKers in once again, but this time Callahan wasn't biting. He held his ground. Twenty seconds later, Ribiero moves the puck to Green. 

 

 

It works. Callahan now can converge on Green, who has much less space to work with now and way too many bodies in front of him to really have a good chance of getting a puck through all the way to the net that can also beat Lundqvist. He tried to force the puck to Ovechkin. Even a perfect pass won't give Ovechkin much time to do anything since Stepan is there to converge. But Green's pass was not perfect, allowing Stepan to force the turnover and send it all the way back to Braden Holtby, killing off a lot of time and preventing the Capitals from getting a shot on goal. 

This is an absolutely essential adjustment that John Tortorella and Mike Sillivan made to the penalty kill. Especially with an array of talented players on the ice for the Capitals, it's easy to see how even an intelligent, disciplined player like Ryan Callahan could make the wrong decision. So kudos to the coaching staff for making the necessary adjustment and kudos to Callahan for learning from his mistake. Instead of giving Ribeiro and Backstrom little space to manuever, it was Ovechkin and Green who didn't have much to work with. And if the Rangers continue to enforce this gameplan then Capitals coach Adam Oates is going to have to make adjustments. Moving Ovechkin or Green to the other side wouldn't allow the Rangers to stack the left side, but it also means putting Green or Ovechkin in a place they are much less likely to score from. Insisting to Backstrom and Ribeiro that they take the bull by the horns and try to take advantage of the ice they have is a more likely scenario, and certainly either guy is capable of doing damage themselves. But it's a percentage play by the Rangers. I, and seemingly the coaching staff, like our odds (and ultimately, Lundqvist's odds) of preventing the Capitals from getting on the scoreboard when that is left up to players other than Ovechkin and Green. It won the Rangers Game Three, and it could be a huge difference the remainder of the series against an absolutely lethal powerplay. 

Here is the entire final two minutes so you can see it play out for yourself. 

 

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