In The Crease With Kappy: Why Vigneault’s line juggling is necessary
The Rangers came out with a new look for the third period of their November 17th matchup versus the Columbus Blue Jackets, after failing to generate any offensive chances in the middle frame. Fans broke out in an eruption of “Why are you moving Buchnevich off of the first line AV!” And to their credit, moving Buchnevich wasn’t the answer for Vigneault as the Rangers went on to lose 2-0.
Fast forward two nights later and the Rangers fielded a different looking lineup. Vigneault opted to keep the KZB (Kreider, Zibanejad, Buchnevich) line intact, but slotted Jesper Fast on the second line, alongside Nash and Hayes. Mats Zuccarello was moved to the third line with JT Miller at center and Michael Grabner on the opposite wing. To put this all into context, the Rangers lineup during their six-game winning streak versus what it was changed to looks as follows:
Kreider – Zibanejad – Buchnevich / Kreider – Zibanejad – Buchnevich
Nash – Hayes – Zuccarello / Nash – Hayes – Fast
Miller – Desharnais – Vesey / Grabner – Miller – Zuccarello
Grabner – Nieves – Fast / Carey – Nieves – Vesey
So why demote Vesey and Zuccarello while promoting Fast and Grabner? Simple, they aren’t promotions. During the six-game streak, the Rangers preyed on a feast or famine top line and were essentially dependent upon that line, and/or the PP, to put up the bulk of their points. Having Grabner on the fourth line allowed for speed to pressure the opponents third defensive pairing. But the glaring issue was that third line. It wasn’t having a tremendous type of output and essentially thinned out the four lines, making the Rangers a little bit top heavy.
Vigneault, by slotting Miller over to center and giving him a playmaker on his wing in Zuccarello essentially told Miller “Play your game, but don’t feel like you have to distribute.” He wants him as a center to be a shooter, and Grabner’s speed opens that up for him. I initially speculated seeing Buchnevich on that line, but I see Vigneault’s logic here.
Lastly, Kevin Hayes and Rick Nash have been so strong together, playing well at both ends of the ice, that Vigneault was comfortable taking some playmaking off that line and adding the defensively responsible Jesper Fast.
A lot of this is going to depend on how reliable the fourth line can be. In today’s game, you have to be able to roll four lines in order to compete; and against Ottawa, Vigneault was able to do just that. You also saw some sparks in the Miller line as he looked comfortable in the center role. If the fourth line can continue to play that way, it will afford the luxury to Vigneault to be able to “juice” up that Miller line and possibly give the Rangers a formidable look up the middle.
As a note, I believe Carey was in for his size and Desharnais will be more of a mainstay on the fourth line as he has a bit more playmaking ability. If you notice, Vigneault’s best lineups have always had two centermen on the 4th line.
These are some small tweaks that are definitely worth keeping an eye on. I may not always agree with AV, but I do respect his hockey knowledge and always try to find his reasoning behind it. I like this reasoning.
Cheers, all and Happy Thanksgiving!