How To Beat A 3-Man Forecheck. Paul Ranger Edition.

Since JP's post on how the Leafs often fail to handle opponents 3-man forecheck, I've been wondering what methods the Leafs can use to break that forecheck.

Or rather, what ways they have actually been using to break that forecheck.

After spying one method, I thought I'd outline it here. And... following in JP's footsteps... I thought it'd be useful to use some video.

Here we go. Video first, then text & pics.

#1. Carolina. 0-0. 2nd period.

At the start, Ranger has taken his man out, squeezing him against the boards. He then kicks the puck back to Kadri, who pounces on it and flips a nice back-pass to Lupul, who's waiting at the boards. Meanwhile, 3 Carolina players - circled in red - are in deep.

Sadly, the D-man pinches, and Lupul loses the puck. Starting to look like a typical, failed, Leaf break-out. However, the puck bounces to Broll, but then his attempt to chip it out off the boards is blocked. Failed break-out #2. Lupul then decides to follow a Carolina player out to the blueline, and eventually, to take off up-ice. Yup. This is now, officially, another failed Leaf break-out.

Except that Carolina's next pass is intercepted. By Ranger. Who this time decides not to go for the man at the boards, but to play it high, off the glass. His pass goes juuuuust over and past 2 Carolina players, out of the Leaf zone, and lands clear for Lupul, who has a 2-on-1, with Carolina caught.

Lupul flubs his pass to Kadri, but Justin Faulk flubs the rebound, and, out of spite I suspect, Lupul pots it anyway.

This pretty much encapsulates the usual difficulties and failures of the Leafs to break out along the boards. It includes a seemingly demented (or brilliant) decision by Lupul to take off up ice, for God only knows what reason. Maybe he just needed some air, I donno. Fortunately, Kadri and Broll are doing roughly the right thing, but their efforts don't really pan out. But back on the D, we see Ranger taking his man out, getting the puck free, then intercepting it a 2nd time.

In the end, this 3 man forecheck was broken, not just by solid defensive pressure, but by a very particular type of pass. Which was necessary because [as JP discussed], Carolina seems to own the boards here. Between their forwards and the pinching D-men, they took the puck away from both Lupul and Broll both times the Leafs got it and tried the standard zone exits.

Where the successful break-out actually came is when Ranger makes his pass high enough up off the glass to clear Carolina's players, but soft enough to come down just behind them, where the Leafs can pounce on it. This method, when it works, enables the Leafs not only get the puck out, but to take advantage of their fast, predatory forwards, catching 4 Carolina guys up ice.

As an aside, note that during this entire episode, where Ranger knocks the puck loose once, intercepts a 2nd Carolina attempt, and makes a break-out pass which results in a goal, he is not once mentioned by the announcers. Instead, they focus on Lupul being hot, and a Carolina Defenceman getting caught pinching. They're not interested in how the Carolina guy got caught pinching, or how Lupul got the puck in the first place.

Welcome to playing defence, kids.

#2. Anaheim. 2-2. 2nd period.

This example is more straight-forward. Ryan Getzlaf has the puck in the corner, and rolls up the boards. Ranger gives chase.

Ranger catches him, and checks Getzlaf hard across the back. He then knocks the puck off Getzlaf, and chips it past him, onto the waiting stick of a... Mr. Philip J. Kessel. Who is off to the races, with 4 Anaheim players trapped behind him.

With just Cam Fowler to face down, Kessel uses JVR as a decoy, and... well... inevitable, really.

For our purposes, note again the heavy 3-man forecheck from the opposition, Ranger again taking the body, again knocking the puck free. Only this time, since he has pursued Getzlaf further out, and an Anaheim D-man has already pinched, all he has to do is win the puck-battle with Getzlaf, [the Ryan Getzlaf], then chip it off the boards and past him, to where the speedy Kessel awaits.

Also, please note again that, in the entire discussion by the announcers, there is absolutely no mention of the name Paul Ranger, until the formal announcement of the assist. Somehow, Ryan Getzlaf just magically coughed up the puck, apparently.

#3. Boston. Down 1-0. 2nd period.

A long lead pass from Boston finds the speedy Loui Eriksson out wide on the Leaf D, but Ranger sweep-checks the puck away, watches Fraser pick up Loui, then turns back to face the play. Patrice Bergeron has picked up the loose puck, but McClement is in hot pursuit. Ranger is back in position at the edge of the crease, and cuts off Bergeron's pass in front.

Yes, that's right, this is the Patrice Bergeron.

Anyway, Ranger is then in the not-too-happy position of having the puck right at the Leafs crease, with 3 Bruins buzzing around. He immediately chips the puck high and soft off the side-glass. But again, the pass is just beyond the 3 Bruins, and catches them deep.

It lands like a Texas Leaguer, on the grass near the boards, where it is seized upon by a Mr. Joffrey M. Lupul, long-time proprietor of "Knickers and Snickers," a lingerie and candy store, famed all-across Decatur, Arkansas. [This last insider information gathered from my local Arkansassy sources, and, granted, it appears at first as an unusual entrepreneurial venture. Then again, this may just be the way of things with Mr Lupul.]

Back to our story, the puck has been launched off the glass on the side-boards, where it selected by Mr Lupul as his preferred fare for the evening. Upon selection, he appears anxious to get to it, and he is off, at some speed.

Fortunately for Mr Lupul, he must only defeat Mssrs Seidenberg, Chara and Tuuka Rask before he may return to his Boutique. Then - perhaps sensing that the rest of the evening will not be up to his exacting standards - he determines to simply fling the puck into the opposing net, enact an appropriate display of disgust, and have done with the entire, filthy little "Bosstown" mob.

As anyone with good breeding would.

Watch closely, and you will see Mr Lupul mouth the standard words of farewell, upon parting from such a person,

"And fuck you too, Mr Chara, you big malook."

Again, it's worth noting the good backchecking and defensive play by Ranger and McClement, that block any shots and then force a turnover. But the key, once again, is a pass off the glass that leaves all 3 Bruins forwards stranded deep in the Leaf zone, and our Forward away with some speed.

And one last time for glory, the announcers again make no mention of Ranger, or of anyone catching Eriksson. And no mention of McClement and Ranger shutting down Bergeron. In fact, the announcers seem to believe that Lupul somehow magically retrieved the puck from Bergeron and Eriksson by... "making a little loop back in his own zone."

So there we are, kids. The high-gloss, high-glory, intense media coverage of playing Defence in the NHL.

And so, 3 goals scored. And, 3 assists to Ranger. And all, without a single mention.

Discussion. A few things worth noting.

1st. What we often call the Leafs ability to score "off the rush" requires not just our forwards with their speed and ability to snipe, but also... the ability of somebody in the defensive end to get them the puck, and get it to them in the right position.

Now, if you just listen to the announcers, these are simply grand, heroic rushes by Lupul, Kessel and Lupul again. Which, they are. They're amazing. A Colton Orr doesn't get the puck and score these kinda of goals.

But. None of these goals happen without good defensive play and coverage. By McClement, by Kadri, and in particular, by Paul Ranger. Without that work, the snipers don't get sprung free.

2nd. These passes are not standard passes that a dork like me makes. The are, in fact, smart passes. And very particular passes.

Watch that first one go juuust over the Carolina players. Too high, icing. Too low, kept in by Carolina. Watch Ryan Getzlaf get out-battled for the puck, and how the puck gets checked loose in a particular direction, forward, to where Kessel awaits. Any other direction, and Kessel's not getting it. Watch Eriksson forced wide, Bergeron forced deep, and then the clearance, instantaneous, into the space behind the Bruins. But just soft enough that Lupul can grab it and take off easily.

3rd. There aren't as many of these off-the-glass passes by the Leaf D-men as there should be. In particular, use of the glass is a good way to break past the 3 man forechecks teams throw at us. Opposing forechecks often jam us along the boards, then pinch down from the points. And since their forwards are often heavier than ours along the boards - it's hard to break.

But using the glass - in different ways - can be a great way to beat big bodies and pinching D-men. Because if the puck gets in behind them, our speed comes into play. Besides, even if the pass fails, the puck is still only at the boards or at the point, and our D-man remains well-positioned.

If we saw more of these passes connect, it would quickly break the back of those 3 man forechecking systems the Leafs seem to do so poorly against. Maybe something to look for more often from the Leafs defence.

4th. Paul Ranger leads the Leafs D-men in 5v5 assists, with 4 already (plus a goal.) Which doesn't sound like a lot.

Except that Cody and Jake only have 1 each. In 17 games. So maybe D-men getting assists in 5v5 play isn't quite as frequent as it looks. And Dion and Rielly only have 3 each this year. Hell, Dion only had 5 assists during 5v5 play, in all 48 games last year. [Oh yeah. Kostka, whom someone asked about the other day, only had 3 assists last year during 5v5. All year.]

But Ranger has 4 already. You just saw 3 of them. They weren't superbly crafted length of the ice passes, or give-and-go blades-blazing high-speed rushes. That's true.

But... they're points, nonetheless. And they help create goals. From 5v5 play. So maybe the Leaf coaches, working with the Leafs D on break-outs, could think about adding in a few more of these kinds of passes?

Final Footnote & Rant.

Now, as we have seen, the announcers don't see these plays. Apparently. Or maybe they just don't see good defensive plays and smart break-out passes. I donno.

But what I saw was Ranger rubbing out a Panther, intercepting a 2nd Panther pass, winning a puck battle with Ryan Getzlaf, chasing down and checking Loui Eriksson and intercepting Patrice Bergeron. Which makes 5 times he knocked the puck free in just these episodes. He then made 4 successful passes, using his feet to Kadri the 1st time, and then the glass - in 3 very different ways - to break free his forwards.

And yet... Not. A. Word.

Which, I have to say, re-listening to the commentary on these goals, makes it slightly easier to understand why fans only remember his mistakes.

But still, beyond watching games and listening to the announcers, we've got the stats. Maybe you don't like the fancy Corsi ones, which Ranger does perfectly well in. [The red-circled numbers.] But how about just plain Jane stats like goals for and against? [The column blocked out in red.]

[Click to enlarge.]

Well, Ranger has already played the most 5v5 minutes of any Leaf D-men this year. 266.2 minutes. [I know, hard to believe, but it's true.] Anyway, that's more than 4.4 full games, right? But still, only 6 goals against at Even Strength. 6 goals against. Total. Extend that over across an 82 game season season, and he's only on for 29 goals.

So maybe if you're one of those guys out there who's busy throwing a rod and tearing his old Tie Domi jersey and losing. his. shit. over Paul Ranger, and all his mistakes and how much he sucks, then maybe [at this point, I should probably just say it, eh?] you should just have done with it, and become a Habs fan.

There. I said it. Meant it.

And yeah. I get pissed off. Because this guy can flat out play defence. And yet, he's gonna get run out of town in Toronto anyway. Because... that's what we do.
Which brings me to my final plea. Not a plea to the fans or the bloggers or the analysts, but to the Leaf brass, whom I know are eagerly reading this.


"Dear Guys, Dolls & Potatoes;

In your infinite wisdom, how about you try NOT putting Paul Ranger out on the ice with guys like fucking potato-boy Frazer McLaren.

Instead, how about you now and then put Paul Fucking Ranger on the fucking ice with a fucking forward who has some fucking speed and can actually receive a fucking pass.

I can't do you whole goddamn job, but in the goddamn videos I have attached and described and broken down into coloured snap-shots for you [above], you can clearly see where he, Paul Ranger, helps people fucking score. As in, helps OUR people score - which would be guys like Kessel and Lupul - as opposed to helping THEIR people, the Bergeron and Marchand types, who are the ass-wipes in the shit yellow sweaters.

Anyway. So far this year, you've played Ranger - during his "sheltered" breaking-in period - more minutes with Colton Fucking Orr and Frazer FuckmeMcLaren than with Phil Fucking Kessel. Or maybe look at it this way. Ranger's played more minutes with team-mates such as Orr, McLaren, Bodie, Ashton, Smith and Broll than have Dion & Cody's pairings. Combined.

So how about you just.... you know.... mix things the fuck up a bit?

And don't think I ain't watchin'.

Cos I am.

So. Just play him with a little fucking skill now and then, willya?

Ya fucking mooks."

Ok. I'm done here.

Wait wait. Did I mention fuck the guys who say Ranger sucks?

I did? Oh. Ok.

Did I mention Zdeno Chara? And how... fuck him too?

I did? Oh. Ok.

Gee. I guess I really am done here then.

Hope this was useful. My contribution to following up on JP's piece.

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