Vigneault’s lineup decisions and constant changes will doom the Rangers

Bobby Bevilacqua

Alain Vigneault

The Rangers have gotten off to an awful start to the season, winning just one of their first 6 games, not scoring much at even strength and leaking chances and goals through their new and improved defense.

Some people might chalk this up to all of the new faces in the locker room trying to learn the system, figure out their roles and what this team’s identity. But the Rangers have a much bigger problem at hand, and it’s the man behind the bench.

Alain Vigneault has been criticized in the past for his lineup decisions, but his choices this year have been truly baffling, especially when it comes to the defensive pairings.

The lineups from today’s practice will have you truly scratching your heads;

Rick Nash-Mika Zibanejad-Mats Zuccarello

Chris Kreider-Davis Desharnais-JT Miller

Jimmy Vesey-Kevin Hayes-Jesper Fast

Michael Grabner-Paul Carey/Adam Cracknell-Pavel Buchnevich

Ryan McDonagh-Tony DeAngelo

Brady Skjei-Brendan Smith

Marc Staal-Kevin Shattenkirk

If you’re uttering a collective “WTF” right now, don’t worry, you’re not the only one. There’s a lot of issues here, but let’s start with the forward lines.

The Rangers have struggled to score goals at even strength this season, Vigneault has said so himself, so why on earth do you go ahead and break up your most productive line? Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich were easily the best line on the ice in every single game.

While the goals haven’t come yet, there hasn’t been production from anyone. I don’t know what Vigneault has seen that warrants a demotion for Buchnevich. That line dominated possession, created tons of scoring chances and was always a threat to score. Now Mika Zibanejad, the team’s best forward ately, has to adapt to two new players on his wings. Frankly, it’s asinine.

The Rangers have a giant problem at center (I told you they’d miss Stepan badly), and now it means David Desharnais is handed the reins to the second line. He’s a former 50 point scorer and definitely has some offensive skills, but that’s not where he is at this point of his career. With Chytil being sent to the AHL (Because apparently 10 minutes of ice time is enough to judge a player), the depth down the middle is a real big problem.

And again, Pavel Buchnevich does’t belong on the fourth line. Neither did Jimmy Vesey. But Alain Vigneault is sacrificing team chemistry with his seemingly panicky roster decisions and smothering talent from his players by buring some if his most talented players in roles they don’t belong, like Buchnevich on the bottom line with Grabner and Paul Carey.

This doesn’t just apply to the forward lines. This offseason, with Jeff Gorton bringing in prized free agent Kevin Shattenkirk, young prostpect Tony DeAngelo, and buying out Dan Girardi, it seemed that the defensive deployment would be foolproof. Amazingly, Vigneault has found a way to make the defense screwy too.

One of the things that baffles me is he seems to contradict himself all of the time. Before the season, he talks about how Marc Staal is legitimately fighting for ice time, yet he’s played in every single game and only just had his ice time cut in the last game against the Devils. He talks about wanting to give McDonagh more defensive zone starts, yet he partners him with DeAngelo, who is certainly more of an offensive player.

I think it’s pretty clear what the defensive pairings should be too. McDonagh and Skjei would be your shutdown pairing that plays 22-25 minutes a night, because McDonagh on his off side is still really, really good. Brendan Smith and Kevin Shattenkirk both are excellent puck movers and could be your offensive zone starting pair that honestly, wouldn’t need to be sheltered. Shattenkirk is a far better defender than someone like Yandle was, he can handle himself back in his own zone. And Marc Staal would play with a rotation of DeAngelo, Holden and Kampfer.

The pairings he’s rolled out have been nothing short of baffling. DeAngelo is being put in a position to fail, and Shattenkirk unfortunately seems headed in the same direction as Keith Yandle; underused and mishandled. All while Nick Holden (38.82 CF% through four games) plays games on the top pairing.

Vigneault also seems to be getting a reputation as a “tinker man.” Through six games this season, Ryan McDonagh has played with four different defensive partners. The lines have been juggled constantly and there has been next to no continuity. In order for this team to succeed, he needs to start coaching for team chemistry.

The Rangers best line, before it was broken up today, was the KZB line. It’s also not a coincidence that they’ve been together for the longest amount of time. Instead of constantly changing the lines and the defensive pairings, it’s so important for players to have some continuity, know their roles and work on playing better together. Without that, this team will continue to score goals and have sustained success.

This team has some issues that are pretty easy to spot. They haven’t had a full 60 minute effort this season, the center depth is paper thin and the 5v5 goals are hard to come by. But things will not improve with the constant line changes, trusting veterans or certain players while demoting guys like Buchnevich or DeAngelo, and the consistent deployment issues on the blue line.

The question isn’t if AV is a good coach or not, it’s whether or not he’s the right coach for this Rangers team that seems stuck between wanting to compete or to play with the long term future in mind. But these constant off decisions, deployments and lineup changes will hold the Rangers back from righting the ship and being competitive this season.

Posted on October 16, 2017, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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