In the eyes of Vincent Trocheck, most games between two contending teams around this point of the season lead to a flow that resembles the playoffs. 

Head coach Peter Laviolette noticed it Wednesday night, when the Rangers defeated the Lightning.

Trocheck agreed, too.

There weren’t many scoring opportunities, many goals, many ways to even break through the defensive structures locked into place. 

That was the Rangers’ encore to a fast-paced outing — which also ended with a victory — against the Avalanche, one of the games where there could be “85 attempts each,” Laviolette said.

In both wins, the Blueshirts allowed just one goal.

They’ve allowed more than two in regulation just twice across their past 10 games, which followed a stretch in which that happened eight times in 15 matchups. 

The defensive growth has allowed the Rangers to win three consecutive games entering Friday against the Blackhawks.

For some statistical areas, they’ve significantly improved from the lowest points of the season. For others, they’re still incremental strides. 

Laviolette said there are ups and downs to every NHL campaign, and Trocheck believed this latest stretch of Rangers defense featured a return to the foundation they built after learning Laviolette’s system. 

“We were just coming off a training camp where we were learning a lot about it, so it was fresh in our minds,” Trocheck told The Post after Thursday’s practice. “I think we got away from it in the middle of the year a little bit. I think we’re getting back to it. We’re fine-tuning a little bit more of our systems that we worked on earlier in the year.” 

The transition began when Laviolette was hired. He implemented his 1-3-1 neutral-zone trap, and that paid immediate dividends during the Rangers’ early-season burst.

The first nine games — when they sat first in shots against, second in scoring chances against and fifth in goals against at even strength per 60 minutes, according to The Post’s Larry Brooks — teased what the Blueshirts could achieve defensively across a full season. 

Then, the sample size kept expanding, accompanying the Blueshirts as they rose to the top of the Metropolitan Division and then the entire league. 

There were growing pains, though. The Rangers deviated from that success, and when they did, their record dipped.

Their goals against per 60 minutes became the fifth-worst (3.01) in the NHL between Dec. 12 and Jan. 13, when they went 7-8.

They became a middle-of-the-pack team in most of the other defensive categories, according to Natural Stat Trick. 

In some cases, the Rangers’ struggles at that point could’ve been attributed to trailing and pulling goaltenders Igor Shesterkin or Jonathan Quick — risking the empty net in an attempt to mount a comeback — and allowing goals at the end, Laviolette said.

But other times, they kept committing costly mistakes that led to opponents turning limited chances into goals. 

That’s changed in recent weeks, according to Laviolette. It didn’t necessarily lead to wins all the time. But Wednesday, Laviolette thought the Rangers were strong with their “stick-on-puck” defense — for shots, for passes, for anything when the Lightning had possession around the offensive zone. The Blueshirts kept Tampa Bay’s rushes from sneaking behind them, too. 

“If there’s a team that’s flying all the time and cheating and it’s odd-man rushes going back and forth, you better figure out how to get into that game, playing that game, defending that game,” Laviolette said Wednesday. “And then there’s some that are just tight where you have to fight for a lot of space out there.” 

Everything’s still a work in progress, Trocheck said. It doesn’t mean the defense has been fixed, or that it won’t hit another rut at some point before the end of the regular season.

The Blueshirts’ scoring chances per 60 minutes (25.56), goals against per 60 minutes (2.06) and shots against per 60 minutes (25.82) have all dropped after the past 10 games. 

If anything, they’re getting closer to resembling the type of defensive team unveiled at the start of the season. 

“Not like we were just under siege,” Laviolette said. “We would make a real clear-cut mistake that we shouldn’t have made or didn’t need to make. When you clean those up and take them out of your game, it can become even tighter. 

“So I think we’ve done a pretty good job recently of removing some of those big mistakes.”

Share.
2024 © Network Today. All Rights Reserved.