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Vigneault must adjust gameplan while team’s play is lackluster

Bobby Bevilacqua

alain vigneault 10-10

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Alain Vigneault is a very good coach. He’s reached the Stanley Cup Finals twice, once with the Canucks and once with the Rangers, he’s created a winning environment everywhere he coached, and he’s been able to get production from all aspects of his team.

But nobody is perfect, and Vigneault must challenge himself to adjust some of his practices and strategies in order to get the Rangers playing up to their full potential.

A few days ago, I wrote an article about the flaws on the Rangers team (HERE). It’s pretty obvious that they’re a product of their excellent goaltending. Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta are the league’s best goalie duo, and both players have stolen games and wins.

Throughout the first 25 games of the season, the team has relied on an absurdly high shooting percentage and save percentage, which gives them a higher PDO than normal. Their win over the Hurricanes is a perfect example – outshot 36-22 but scoring three goals on the first seven shots of the game.

Over time, these numbers tend to regress closer to normal, and we saw some of that during the three game losing streak – fewer goals and a normal performance from Henrik Lundqvist.

As the numbers likely trend downward towards normal, AV will need to tweak his strategies and gameplay accordingly to get the most out of his players. With Derek Stepan out for a while and no high-level prospects to call up, that’s even more important now.

Vigneault has seen that the Rangers are struggling and has discussed their issues on a few occasions, but he hasn’t done a lot to attack the source of the problems.

Against the Hurricanes, Kevin Klein was finally put on the top defensive pairing again, meaning that Dan Girardi was out as the top pairing defenseman. But Klein’s injury thrust him back into that role, and he finished the game with a -26 corsi at 5v5 even strength, the worst mark of his career. He had a bad turnover in his own end that led to a goal. And following an offseason surgery, he continues to struggle on defense and to drive possession.

Marc Staal has been wildly inconsistent, Dan Boyle had a really strong game against the Hurricanes but can be an adventure in his own end at times, and Ryan McDonagh is a far cry from the player we saw in 2013-14. Also, if I see one of these defenders try and pass the puck through the middle of the neutral zone and instead give it away to an opposing player, I’m going to rip my hair out.

While all of this is happening, Keith Yandle is still extremely underused on the power play, despite proving himself to be one of the best point-men on the man advantage in the entire league. And what happens when he’s out there with Dan Boyle to start a power play? Oscar Lindberg scores in 12 seconds.

Instead of putting Ryan McDonagh out on the power play with the first unit, and sticking him out there for the majority of the time, play Yandle then. I can only imagine how a unit with Zuccarello, Yandle, Brassard and Nash would look. The passing would be off the charts and Yandle would have a lot of talented players to work with.

Vigneault could even do what Therrien does in Montreal with Subban – just keep Yandle out on the ice for almost the full two minutes. Rotate the forwards and the other point man, and let Yandle threaten the other team with all of the open ice he has for an entire two minutes.

The other problem seems to be his misuse/mistrust of the younger players on the team. Yes, I totally understand that there have been some mistakes and errors from Hayes, Miller, Etem, etc., but they’re the future of the team and they have some legitimate talent. Hayes had 45 points last season and could be a big offensive contributor, just like Miller can be. We’re yet to see what Etem is really made of either.

Instead of increasing the young players’ ice time and banking on them for more scoring and production, AV has leaned heavily on Dominic Moore and Jarret Stoll, the reliable veterans. A lot of nights, they’ll get more ice time than Hayes, Lindberg and Miller. Against Carolina, Stoll (15:10) and Moore (16:34) had more even strength ice time than almost every single forward, including Rick Nash.

For a team that’s struggling to drive possession and to get more shot attempts, sticking your fourth line out there repeatedly won’t solve the problem. Letting your offensive players get more time and trusting them more will pay dividends, in generating more scoring chances as well as developing the skills of the younger players.

Again, Vigneault is an excellent hockey coach. But his tendency to constantly go to his trusted veterans in all situations. We saw it with Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis, the Tanner Glass saga, and now with Dan Girardi and Marc Staal as heavily used defenseman. That one big flaw in Vigneault’s coaching system over the years.

This is not to discredit Vigneault or his ability to coach a team. I think he’s an excellent coach, and I do think he has the knowledge and ability to get over that last hump and win a Stanley Cup.

He also has the right personnel. But he needs to use them correctly.

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Posted on December 1, 2015, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. You don’t have to keep saying AV is great. We know that. He is making some mind boggling decisions and they need to be called out. No need to sugarcoat.

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