Every team in the NHL is known for playing a certain style of hockey.
For each team, it is a style of hockey that is meant to make them successful and one that fits what the team’s roster is comprised of. In the case of the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs, each team has struggled to figure out what kind of hockey club they are but when they met each other on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, one team got closer to their identity than the other.
Unfortunately for the Leafs, they still have not figured out what kind of team they are going to be this season. The club is 2-3 and after Saturday night’s 5-2 loss to the Rangers, has more questions than answers.
At MSG on Saturday night, the Leafs were outplayed from start to finish. The team was outshot 41-17, had trouble picking up Rangers’ forwards in the slot and looked like they did not have any energy.
“We were not able to establish the offensive zone tonight,” Leafs’ head coach Randy Carlyle said after the game. “The Rangers swarmed us.”
When the Leafs won their two games this season against the Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins, they were a hard team to play against. The team drove hard to the net, played a physical brand of hockey, and when they got the lead, they did what they needed to do to protect it.
Against the Rangers two nights ago, the Leafs were not able to accomplish any of that. After scoring two goals on three shots in the first period to go up 2-0, the team was nowhere to be found and played the kind of hockey that will not win many hockey games in any kind of season.
“We had many defensive breakdowns tonight and left guys uncovered in our own zone,” Carlyle admitted after his team’s loss. “We also did not do a good enough job in the neutral zone and stopped skating once things went in the Rangers’ favour.”
For the Leafs to be successful going forward, they will need to continue to work on the defensive part of the game, learn how to play with the lead, and to not let down when the opposition gets its game going. The team also cannot afford to play the way they did against the Rangers.
“It was defend and dump the puck out to the neutral zone, then defend some more and dump the puck out to the neutral zone,” Carlyle said.
At the other end of the ice, it appears that the Rangers took a page out of last season’s playbook and played the kind of hockey that made them one of the best teams in the NHL last season. They forechecked, battled for loose pucks, drove hard to the net and played their best defensive game of the season.
“We played our game,” Rangers’ head coach John Tortorella said after the game. “We played well for 60 minutes, had the puck most of the game and did not get frustrated when James Reimer was playing so well.”
Last season, the Rangers were one of the best defensive teams in the league. It was their play in their own zone that allowed their offense to develop and create plays at the other end.
“When you talk about forechecking, no one thinks about the other end,” Tortorella explained. “It’s about defending your other end first so you have the puck and have an opportunity to forecheck. I thought we were much stronger and got stronger as the game went on, playing underneath the hashmarks.”
For the Rangers to be a successful team going forward, they need to continue to play the way they did last season. Their style consisted of paying attention to all the details of the game, creating offence when it was there and playing with confidence.
“We carried the play and took it one period at a time,” Rangers’ defenceman Michael Del Zotto (two assists) said after the game. “We stayed with it and gained our identity back by playing with that swagger that made us so successful last season.”
At 2-3, each team still has some work to do when it comes to establishing their identity but based on Saturday night’s game between the two clubs, it is easy to see which team is closer to accomplishing that.