Stark contrasts between Peter Laviolette and Gerard Gallant becoming very apparent
It’s still very early in the New York Rangers season, but the stark contrasts between new head coach Peter Laviolette and his predecessor Gerard Gallant are very apparent.
Reports following last season’s collapse against the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup playoffs were the Rangers’ core felt a change was needed behind the bench.
Despite overwhelming regular season success and a run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2022, head coach Gallant found himself unemployed in May.
After an extensive search that seemed to drag longer than anyone would expect, General Manager Chris Drury landed on Laviolette. Through five games of up and down hockey, it’s evident that if change is what the Rangers wanted, change is what it got.
Peter Laviolette a stark contrast to Gerard Gallant
Structure has been the buzzword during Laviolette’s short Rangers tenure. After Gallant deployed mostly a man-on-man and zone defense, Laviolette’s 1-3-1 system has needed some getting used to, with some players struggling a bit more than others.
New York opened the season with a near-perfect game in Buffalo and followed it up with so-so performances against Columbus and Arizona before laying an egg Thursday night against Nashville. The inconsistent results show there’s still work to be done in getting the roster aligned with the coach’s vision.
To his credit, Laviolette didn’t blow things up when his team took to the ice Saturday night in Seattle. In fact, the lineup, outside of the starting goaltender — who finished the game Thursday — was the same that skated against the Predators.
This is in stark contrast to Gallant, whose only constant in two seasons was change. There were nights line combinations were altered at the start of the second period.
If you’ve been around these parts long enough, you’ll remember Alain Vigneault never changing his lineup after a win. But at the first sign of trouble, he’d often put his lines in a blender looking for an answer.
Laviolette, though, subscribes to the notion that Rome wasn’t built in a day. His patience was rewarded with a stellar 4-1 victory over the Kraken Saturday to begin a five-game road trip.
“I don’t think you just put it out there and let it go,” Laviolette said last week. “You have to evaluate it. I do think you have to give it a little bit of time, but there are situations – winning and losing factors into it. Health factors into it. An opponent may factor into what you think might be good for a line or good for somebody on a line, or a D pair, giving them a responsibility.”
The offense was driven by his top-two lines, including goals from Kappo Kakko and Alexis Lafrienere, and three assists from Filip Chytil.
After Thursday’s performance, it would have been easy — possibility expected because they’re the Rangers — for changes. But Laviolette stuck to his guns, and it paid off.
“I think sometimes you need the opportunity to respond,” he said after the victory. “We addressed a lot of things (on Friday). It’s not like it went without being addressed. It wasn’t how we want to represent ourselves. It’s a chance for those guys to go back out there and play a better game.”
While good, neither unit was setting the world ablaze through four games. Lafrienere had just one goal — the first the team scored this season — while Kakko and Chytil had just one assist each. Even Artemi Panarin, who had two goals in the win, has done most of his damage with the man advantage.
Laviolette opened camp and then preseason looking for different combinations that worked. He kept several long-standing partnerships together, including Chris Kreider with Mika Zibanejad, and the top-two defensive pairs. It was finding the right fit in other areas.
He knew there would be some growing pains while chemistry was formed. He understood starting over would be counterproductive.
That’s the sign of a good coach. It’s something that has been lacking with this organization for sometime.
With the way last season ended, a change in approach was needed behind the bench. It wasn’t change for change’s sake. The new head coach embodies that thus far and his team should benefit from it.