NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE PLAYOFFS
New York Rangers
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- Welcome back.
- Nothing has changed.
- Thank you very much.
That's a hell of an attitude to start the playoffs with, ain't it?
That's because the same issues I had in October, and repeated through February, are pretty much what I still take issue with today. In fact, I'm still clinging to the same gripes I held last season.
I do not believe in Alain Vigneault's system. It's designed for the regular season, which is fine. But come the playoffs, it reaches its limits in a short series, particularly against more physical teams.
You know exactly where I'm going with this...
Alain Vigneault had tough, physical players at his disposal when he coached the Montreal Canadiens. He also had a few physically minded players when he coached the Vancouver Canucks. In both instances he resisted infusing physicality into his plan during the playoffs, and in each instance got dismissed as head coach.
The 2011 Canucks lost the Stanley Cup finals against the tougher, much more physical Boston Bruins. Shortly thereafter, Vancouver stated their main reason for firing Alain Vigneault (and hiring John Tortorella) was to get tougher. Which in turn means what? The Rangers got softer.
Like you need reminding - the Rangers lost to the more physical and resilient Los Angeles Kings in the 2014 Cup finals in similar fashion. Last year's elimination against the Tampa Bay Lightning I completely blame on him, and his stubbornness. He made adjustments, but just didn't see them through. He was determined to make his philosophy work, but just like in his previous endeavors, he came up short.
When he coaches with a backbone, he'll finally win a Cup.
To date, the results speak for themselves.
The Rangers get pushed off the puck too easily - they don't have the forwards that pound opposing defensemen, and therefore spend little time in the offensive zone. It's mind numbing. Defensively, they do a poor job of clearing traffic, and are generally too smallish to inflict any meaningful punishment themselves. But, those are personnel issues.
Teams continually take their liberties against Rangers players, particularly Henrik Lundqvist, because they know the Rangers will offer no resistance, no retaliation, no nuthin'. That's on the coach.
I'll be paying attention as to how Alain Vigneault utilizes Dylan McIlrath in the playoffs.
My issues are not solely focused on the team's lack of physicality either.
Henrik Lundqvist, is now 34-years old, yet recorded his most starts (65) since the 2010-11 season. Under Vigneault, the Rangers have reverted back to being overly reliant on Lundqvist again - I'm talking Tom Renney dependence levels!
Lundqvist posted a .920 SV% this season, which is on par with his career. He posted a 2.48 GAA, however, which was a career worst. In my opinion, much of that is attributable to, yes, lack of physicality in front.
Now, correct me if I'm wrong ... but wasn't one of the reasons for hiring Vigneault to improve the power play? I guess he's still working on that, but in the meantime the penalty kill finished 26th this season.
* * *
Lucky for Alain Vigneault, the Rangers will open the playoffs against Pittsburgh. They've handled them before, perhaps they can do it again.
Pittsburgh plays right into Vigneault's system of skating with speed, and moving the puck quickly. The Rangers and Pens played each other three times in March, and all were fairly fast paced affairs.
Oh yeah ... the Rangers lost all three games and were outscored by a combined 12-6 margin.
The Penguins will be without their starting goalie Marc Andre-Fleury, and forward Evgeni Malkin.
The Rangers will be without Ryan McDonagh for Game One.
I'll just see how goes and take it from there.
Points I still need to get off my chest:
- Blueliners - Marc Staal and Dan Girardi.
- If Mats Zuccarello is continually the Rangers' best forward, then they're in big trouble.