Eyes in the sky: Vigneault joins Sather in skybox as decisions loom

AV talks lineups on MSG

AV talks lineups on MSG

Last night, Alain Vigneault was not behind the bench. Instead, he was with GM, Glen Sather high above the Garden ice. “It was an opportunity for me to sit-down with Glen there and take a look at some of the decisions we have to make.”

As the head coach continued, his tone indicated that he wasn’t fully satisfied with what he saw. The Rangers play their final preseason game tonight in NJ against the Devils. It’s a game AV feels is needed, “There’s a couple of areas that we’re still up in the air.”

Has Jesper Fast done enough? (Photo: Bruce Bennet - Getty Images)

Has Jesper Fast done enough? (Photo: Bruce Bennet – Getty Images)

Final decisions are coming, but the areas that stood out last night as a concern was the play of the kids. They were at best inconsistent and at times liabilities in their own end. Still, both Anthony Duclair and Kevin Hayes had some strong moments as well. They won puck battles and used their speed effectively, yet they made mistakes that rookies commit when learning the game.

Although one young player looked quick and decisive last night. Jesper Fast is showing that he has enough speed, poise and versatility to make this team. His added size helps too, as he  caused the turnover on Ryan Malone’s goal, who has also shown some early chemistry with JT Miller.




Tonight’s lineup will look like this:

Forwards: Anthony Duclair, Kevin Hayes, Ryan Haggerty, Matthew Lombardi, Marek Hrivik, Oscar Lindberg, Chris Mueller, Jesper Fast, JT Miller, Ryan Malone, Dominic Moore, Carl Hagelin (Duclair, Hayes and Fast are lead dogs to claim one of the few remaining spots)

Defense: Matt Hunwick, Steven KampferMichael Kostka, Dan Girardi, Kevin Klein, John Moore (It’s a final tuneup for the regulars and one last effort for Kostka to overtake Hunwick for the 7th spot)

Goalies: Cam Talbot and Henrik Lundqvist (Talbot should play the whole game, and Lundqvist is also under the weather)

The real questions all lie up front. Matthew Lombardi gets another opportunity solely because he’s a natural center. After last night’s performance by Marty St. Louis in the middle, AV is not discouraged but he also didn’t seem optimistic.

“I thought he had some moments,” AV told reporters last night. The coach was eluding to him paying more attention to the defensive responsibilities that come with playing center, like face-offs to which he finished 6 for 13 (winning 4 of 7 in the third and on to make it respectable). But he was also eluding to being the last forward out of the zone, which will hamper his offensive game.

Still, AV left us with this on seeing MSL in the middle again, “I’m not saying no or moving forward”.

So the question that still remains is what will it take to make a decision? Alain Vigneault discussed just that and the lineup for tonight will be under this scrutiny, “A lot of it is going to be decided by how they play, but also maybe the type of look we want to give ourselves.”

Ah, ask a question and the answer raises two more. What exactly is that look? Who fits that look? Even AV didn’t seem sure, “is it gonna be speed, is it gonna be skill, is it gonna be size? We should see Lombardi tomorrow so I’m anxious to see how he is gonna play.”

Here’s what I can tell you, Lombardi is being looked at hard because AV would rather keep MSL on the right side. As for the kids, Duclair was still highly visible last night, using his speed to draw a penalty on Patrick Kane.

As for Hayes, he has shown enough – including an ability to play center to earn a spot. Same goes for Jesper Fast who has speed to burn with some newly added size.

Ryan Malone is all smiles after another strong performance (Photo: Bruce Bennett - Getty Images)

Ryan Malone is all smiles after another strong performance (Photo: Bruce Bennett – Getty Images)

Last night saw Ryan Malone score his second goal in his second exhibition game. He also notched the shootout winner and has the desired size up front to make the team. He has a spot on this team and he’s earned it.


Armchair GM - CapGeek.com

Armchair GM – CapGeek.com

A quick glance at the roster (as I see it), shows really 2 spots remaining. Anthony Duclair has made it, the Rangers just have to make it formal. Of those two spots, one is on the 4th line and the other is the extra forward. I will say this, Lee Stempniak has not impressed, but he is a veteran with a proven track record. The Rangers signed him for 900K and it almost seems he makes it by default.

So, until Stepan returns – I think either Kevin Hayes or Jesper Fast make the team. Hayes’ ability to play center should give him the edge over Fast. When Derek is healthy, Kevin Hayes will likely be sent down.

Of course, AV could screw us all up and keep Matthew Lombardi as the 4th line center. Or, Slats could wow us all and dump some of these aging vets to make room for the kids.

We will see.

Anthony Scultore has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL since 2014. His work also appears at... More about Anthony Scultore

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