Rangers learning the “Right Way”, Vigneault’s Way
Alain Vigneault was brought in to change how the New York Rangers played hockey. For many fans no one was quite sure what that meant. We all fell in love with the Black N’ Blueshirts that former bench boss John Tortorella forged with tough love. From shot blocking to grinding out wins, we identified with them. When AV was handed the reins we were told he’d transform the Rangers into an offensive team, but all we got was dysfunction and losses. It left us all wondering if the Rangers just made the biggest mistake in recent franchise history. A thought that is now a distant memory.
On many nights you could see Rangers chasing pucks or just standing still. They truly didn’t know what to do. Players that suffered mightily were Henrik Lundqvist, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. The King was losing confidence with every goal against as the team in front struggled to grasp the system. Things became so bad that a 26 year old net minder from Hartford was stealing starts from Hank. Cam Talbot was an early season hero and important in getting the Rangers to settle down and get back to basics. It was obvious that the Blueshirts were more concerned with protecting Cam that they simplified the game for themselves. This was the first real building block in getting the ship righted.
ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK
So after a 5-7 October, the Rangers improved to 9-6 in November. While it looked like an improvement in the standings, they were still struggling to forecheck and score. A fact that was punctuated with a poor December where they went 6-6-2. In that month the Blueshirts held their second closed door meeting after a loss to the Caps only to follow it up with another loss at home to the lowly Predators. The first closed door meeting came after a 9-2 loss in October to SJ, they followed it with a 6-0 loss to Anaheim. AV said in a post game presser of the second meeting “it’s just talk” and he was right.
Then it all clicked after a miserable loss to the Penguins on January 3rd. The score of 5-2 was flattering to say the least. The calendar just turned to 2014 and the Rangers were 20-20-2 and looking like a below average team. Another closed door meeting was held and something snapped in the heads of every Ranger and their coach. The following game they routed the Maple Leafs to the tune of 7-1! Another let down was about to take place at home against the Blue Jackets but they rallied for 2 goals in the third and fell in the shootout. Finally the corner was turned against the defending Champs in Chicago, where in the third period, Henrik Lundqvist shut the door and became The King again. It was also the debut of Daniel Carcillo who has not only filled in for the injured Derek Dorsett but has turned the whole 4th line around with his play. Instantly, the head coach has been able to role 4 lines with great effect.
The Rangers are now 11-3-1 since that loss to Pittsburgh. They have scored 52 goals in the process for an average of 3.46 goals a game. That is nearly a goal higher than they were producing all season. Players that were struggling are now thriving. Dan Girardi who was a -5 in 42 games is now a +7 in his last 15. Marc Staal who in his first 32 games has 3 points and was a -10, now has 7 points and is a +10 in the last 15. As for Lundqvist? 9-2-1 with a .940 save percentage since that loss in Pittsburgh. Rick Nash has been on fire and Mats Zuccarello continues to shine. Now it looks like Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan are starting to click too. So many Rangers stand out during this stretch that it’s to difficult to name them all and it all points to the persistence of one gum chewing coach.
I remember getting all over AV for refusing to adjust his system, for not appearing to take responsibility and even for refusing to use his timeouts. Looking back, I find it funny that it was a timeout that permanently changed the fortune of the Rangers and how we all view the coach today. It was in Chicago late in the third on a timeout called by the Blackhawks! Unlike in the past where AV would sit back and let his assistants lead the charge, he stood up and rallied his troops, giving them instructions and morale support in the face of the Blackhawks’ surge. It was that moment that Vigneault stopped being the former coach of the Canucks and the coach of the Rangers.
No one knows just how far this team will go. If you look at what they did in the first 42 games and what they are doing now, it’s a totally different squad. The Rangers are clicking on all cylinders and look like a surefire playoff team. It is very possible they will get home ice advantage in the first round as well. A remarkable turnaround to say the least, one that Alain Vigneault deserves full credit for. The Rangers are now his team and it shows.
Now if he would just use those timeouts more often. 🙂
Article originally written by Anthony Scultore