Alain Vigneault Doesn’t Know What To Do

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With this team in the midst of its’ worst start since 1980, Alain Vigneault is trying to find the combinations that will put his team in the best position to succeed. While the players deserve some of the blame for the Rangers’ 1-5 record, AV hasn’t exactly been aces either. Personally, I like giving coaches the benefit of the doubt, especially given the Rangers general success over the last few years under Vigneault. But the way this season has started, with the general ineptitude at times of his team and some of his decisions, it may be time for the 56-year-old head coach to be relieved of his duties. And we see a clear manifestation of this in his practice lines from today’s tune-up ahead of the Rangers matchup with the 3-2 Penguins tomorrow night.

A couple of notes here. First, AV had said that he wanted to try and stick with combos that worked last season, and after just six games seems to be blowing the whole thing up. The KZB line has generated a lot of chances at even strength but hasn’t been cashing in on those chances. But having said that, there is no reason for Pavel Buchnevich to be immediately demoted to the fourth line. AV is only stunting his growth even more, and by extension hurting his team. Although it is possible Buchnevich did sustain a minor injury that caused his demotion.

Along the same lines (pun intended), is the fact that the Grabner-Hayes-Miller line that was so successful last season was only together for game one against the Avalanche. Part of that is because the Rangers don’t know where to position JT Miller, but the Rangers have centers down in Hartford like Boo Nieves and Filip Chytil that could have kept Miller on the outside.

Speaking of centermen, David Desharnais playing on the second line with Kreider and Miller is not something that anyone would have thought of happening this season. Desharnais has been a third line center at his absolute best during his career and isn’t exactly lighting it up with the Blueshirts to warrant a promotion.

Turning to the defense, AV has finally kept Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith together. Both players have been a bit slow out of the gate this year, but there is nothing to indicate that either player will stay this way for the remainder of the season. Then we move on to Kevin Shattenkirk.

Shattenkirk was brought in during the offseason as the “savior” for the top line and hasn’t been performing up to the level everyone expected. That being said, he isn’t a third line defenseman. Playing with Ryan McDonagh, both players have tendencies to jump into the play and be aggressive pinching to keep the puck in the zone, and they weren’t able to generate the chemistry from the get-go. McDonagh has always played with a defensive-minded partner, namely Dan Girardi, so skating alongside a player like Shattenkirk is going to take some time to adjust. But the only way for them to get on the same page more quickly is for them to play together and work out the kinks.

Let’s give credit where it’s due. Marc Staal has looked better than he has in the last couple of years, and maybe playing him with Shattenkirk will make sure that he sticks to a defense-first mentality. But Shattenkirk wasn’t signed to play on the third line against the weaker competition; he was signed to play top minutes against the NHL’s best alongside the Rangers’ captain.

In all fairness to AV, it is possible that his team is already banged up enough where he has to change his lines to put guys in different situations. But that doesn’t excuse playing 11F and 7D in two of the last four games. And it doesn’t excuse gluing Filip Chytil to the bench before the Rangers ultimately sent him down to Hartford, where he put up three points in just his second AHL game on Saturday night. This isn’t to say that Chytil is the second coming of Mark Messier, but it shows that given the chance to play, this kid has the skills to play in the NHL.

The Rangers are in a bad way right now. The team looks completely disjointed at all levels. The coaching staff doesn’t know what to do to get the players ready, possibly a sign that they have lost the room; and the players aren’t performing well enough either. Vigneault doesn’t have a lot of time left to get this team skating in the right direction. And if he can’t, he’ll be looking for a job outside of MSG.