The New York Rangers are 15-7-1, good for the second best record in the NHL. Despite that, New York can improve if Alain Vigneault and Jeff Gorton step up to the plate and make necessary changes.
Last season, the New York Rangers flew out of the gates. New York crushed their opponents into smithereens on the scoreboard, despite the underlying numbers pointing towards danger. This season has been more of the same, with the Rangers at the top of the league despite poor possession metrics. Alain Vigneault and Jeff Gorton must learn from last season.
Alain Vigneault was run out of Vancouver for failing to develop the youth appropriately. The inevitable demise of Vigneault in New York will stem from an inability to determine the correct roles for his players. At 15-7-1, Vigneault is safe. Recent play suggests the record is not significantly indicative, though.
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After a refreshing beginning to the season including the waiving of Tanner Glass and rolling of four skill lines, Vigneault has failed to adapt to injuries. Vigneault rushed Oscar Lindberg back from an injury to play insignificant minutes, hurting the player and team.
When Pavel Buchnevich and Mika Zibanejad went down with injuries, Vigneault failed to adapt. Rather than keeping his offensive weapons together, Vigneault anchored Jesper Fast to his skill players. Jesper Fast is a talented player that is valuable as a fourth liner and penalty killing option. Considering he has scored 16 goals in the last two seasons, Fast is not a useful option in the top six.
Still, Vigneault insists on placing his lines in a blender and seeing what comes out. Gone are the days of chemistry, away are the nights of skill players working in trios. Vigneault throws together mixes and matches at random, robbing his players of comfort in the lineup.
Yet where changes must be made, Vigneault fails to make them. Vigneault brilliantly split up Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh to start the season, a move that freed McDonagh to finally play to his ability. The pair re-united, however, and McDonagh’s numbers have dropped since.
Additionally, after previously stating Adam Clendening would enter the lineup on back to backs, Vigneault has deserted the option. Instead, the possession minded defenseman on the team sits as Vigneault wonders why the Rangers struggle to hold the puck.
Vigneault is not alone in the blame game. Jeff Gorton put together a masterful group of forwards for the season, but ignored the gaping holes on defense. Gorton ignored the obvious move of buying out Dan Girardi or Marc Staal, while failing to sell high on Kevin Klein.
Gorton instilled a roster that relies on forward talent and goaltending alone, yet now watches idly as that forward talent is mishandled. Vigneault must be held accountable for his mishaps with the lineup, but Gorton cannot escape the blame either. Defense has been a far more significant problem than offense, and the options are not good enough for any coach to work with.
Putting it all in perspective, the New York Rangers will be alright. The forward group is too strong and Henrik Lundqvist is too good for them not to be. Still, the Rangers are looking to be better than alright. A Stanley Cup victory will come from adaptation, an both Alain Vigneault and Jeff Gorton have proven inept in.