Rangers’ Richards says neutral-zone defense needs to improve


With minimal practice time to get used to coach Alain Vigneault’s system, it’s no huge surprise the Rangers have struggled to start the season. A new coach typically means an adjustment period for the team.

Now, granted, the extent of their struggles is surprising — when an NHL team loses the way New York has lost, there’s more than just one thing going wrong — but according to veteran forward Brad Richards, one notable difference between Vigneault’s system and the one the Rangers played under former bench boss John Tortorella occurs in the neutral zone when the opposition has the puck.

“Basically, there’s a difference in when we pressure the puck in the neutral zone,” Richards said, per the New York Post. “With Torts, the forwards went to the puck right away and the defense read off that.

“Now, it’s more that we want to push the puck into the middle and form a triangle where we push out and read off that. There’s an adjustment there, and if there’s a delay in reacting and the difference because of that is four or five feet, it may not sound like a lot, but it is.”

Again, learning a new system can’t explain how badly the Rangers have lost games, like 9-2 in San Jose and 6-0 two nights later in Anaheim. As Richards says, “The overall message that we have to embrace is that ‘Hockey is hockey.'”

But certainly the Rangers’ neutral-zone defending will be worth watching tonight in Washington against the likes of Alex Ovechkin, a player they really won’t want to let fly through the middle of the ice like this…