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Alain Vigneault criticism and properly re-assembling the Rangers lines

Bobby Bevilacqua

alain vigneault on bench 12-15

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

After last night’s loss to the Islanders, Alain Vigneault was getting A LOT of criticism, from both fans and even some pointed questions from reporters. His team didn’t show up at the puck drop, played terrible defense and weren’t prepared for one of the biggest games of the season yet.

There was criticism about his usage of JT Miller, about why Stepan took the faceoff, and just about anything else people felt like complaining about.

JT Miller didn’t play because he wasn’t that good last night, plain and simple. Everyone is insisting he gets top line minutes because of the streak he went on, scoring practically a goal a game for a span of 12 or 13 contests. But he hasn’t scored 13 games now, and hasn’t been nearly as effective or dangerous as he was back in January.

Also, the reason why you don’t bench Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello is because they’re better players, and they have the potential to be much more dynamic. Brassard is dangerous on the point on the power play, where he scored, and Zuccarello is probably the best passer on the team. Miller doesn’t have that kind of playmaking ability.

Also, people said that it made no sense that Tanner Glass was getting more ice time. But Glass was positive in possession in the first period, scored a goal, and was doing more than Miller was. So he deserved that ice time.

People criticizing the Stepan faceoff really baffle me. Yes, Eric Staal was fantastic at the dot last night (20 for 22), but he was just coming off of a really long shift and he was tired. AV sent out Stepan for the faceoff on his strong side, but he lost and Clutterbuck scored.

Vigneault didn’t lose the faceoff cleanly, Stepan did. So stop blaming AV for sending out his center to take a faceoff on his strong side.

Also, some people think AV has lost his touch and a change is needed at coach, which also confuses me. Even if he hasn’t made the best decisions at times, what coach could you bring right now that would be markedly better than Vigneault? Because I can’t think of one. He’s been one of the best coaches in the league for a while now and for the most part, he’s done well with the Rangers.

One area where I definitely agree some criticism is needed is his usage of players and his formation of lines. For the second game in a row, Kevin Hayes was on the fourth line, which makes absolutely no sense. I’m a big fan of Jesper Fast, but Kevin Hayes is a better option for the top six.

Eric Staal played a fantastic game against the Islanders and he logged almost 20 minutes of ice-time, but he was on the third line with Oscar Lindberg and Viktor Stalberg. Granted, both of them played very well, including Lindberg scoring his first goal in 23 games, but you’d like to see Staal with better talent.

With that being said, here is how I would set the lines, at least until Rick Nash comes back.

FIRST LINE: Eric Staal-Derick Brassard-Kevin Hayes

Last night Rangers fans saw exactly why Jeff Gorton acquired Eric Staal, and what he can bring to the lineup on a nightly basis. Staal was all over the ice, both defensively as well as creating a lot of offensive chances and driving possession throughout the night. He’s arguably the second most talented forward on this team behind Rick Nash, and he needs to be getting top six ice time every night. Derick Brassard, while wildly inconsistent and much better on home ice, still should be the first line center. But he needs to be broken up from Mats Zuccarello, because they’re both pretty inconsistent and that doesn’t work well together. Kevin Hayes has looked fine on the wing with Dom Moore and Tanner Glass, and until Rick Nash comes back, Hayes will fill in on that top line nicely. He’s played well with Staal in the past, and this line has potential to be a real scoring threat.

SECOND LINE: JT Miller-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello

The second line needs a bit of a shake-up. While Miller has been cold lately, and hasn’t been playing at the same level he was back in January and early February, he’s still one of the leading scorers on the team. Derek Stepan needs a new winger to play with, because Chris Kreider has way too many games where he’s barely-there. Miller would be a nice new addition to that line, and could work well with Stepan. Zuccarello also adds some much-needed creativity to that line and some good passing. Miller is a shooter, Stepan is well-rounded, and Zuccarello is more of a pass first player. It’s a good balance.

THIRD LINE: Chris Kreider-Oscar Lindberg-Viktor Stalberg

Putting Kreider on the third line could do him some good. Eric Staal on the third line has created some massive matchup problems at times because he wasn’t going up against the other team’s top defensemen. Kreider becomes invisible when matched up against some of the other team’s best defensive lines and best d-men, so putting his speed on the third line could open up the ice for him and create matchup problems. Also, this would be an incredibly fast line with Kreider and Stalberg on the wings. Stalberg has been trending upward lately too, becoming more of an offensive player and creating a lot of chances. Lindberg is a steady center that can win draws and play well defensively, balancing out the line.

FOURTH LINE: Tanner Glass-Dominic Moore-Jesper Fast

Jesper fast is a bottom-six player at heart, and the Rangers need his reliability down there with Dom Moore. He can also be a pretty good scorer at times, which is an added bonus of the fourth line and something you want from them at times. Tanner Glass scored his third goal of the season last night and played a pretty decent game. Vigneault likes him so I expect him to be a mainstay in the lineup. Dom Moore is an excellent fourth line center and he needs no explaining.

In conclusion, I think these lines are just a lot more balanced, they get Eric Staal and Kevin Hayes the top-six minutes they both need and deserve, and it takes pressure off of other guys like Chris Kreider.

When Rick Nash returns (skated with teammates in a non-contact jersey today) the lines will look completely different. Despite the fact that Glass will probably remain in the lineup anyway, here is how I would structure the lines.

Nash-Brassard-Staal

Miller-Stepan-Zuccarello

Kreider-Hayes-Stalberg

Lindberg-Moore-Fast

Hopefully Vigneault starts properly utilizing his players moving forward, and if so, the Rangers should be a much more balanced team.

 

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Posted on March 7, 2016, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Kevin Hayes is wasted space in my ooinion. He’ll never be worth top six on any club. The small spark of hope we saw out of him has came and is long gone. Other than that I agree with most of the points made. Vigneault is our guy despite some questionable judgement calls. Don’t let the people forget what we had previous (that idiot that zucc to hartford, remember him?). Despite a lack of consistency and repeated defensive breakdowns, I’m ready for a solid run this year. Let’s just hope they get their stuff together in time for the playoffs.

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    • You realize that Hayes is scoring at a close pace to his rookie season right? .47 PPG to .56 PPG. He’ll probably finish with around 40 points. People expected him to make a massive jump in his second year. Sophomore slump happens and he’ll be okay. But I agree with you about Torts, because he had Kreider and Zuccs on the fourth line and in Hartford. AV has done so much to spark a lot of the current players and bring out their potential

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