The Alain Vigneault Wheel of Justice is spinning again, this time with the needle falling on ... J.T. Miller.
If you’ve paid attention, you might have noticed Miller’s role being decreased a bit -- reaching a head in the Rangers 4-3 win over Ottawa when he was placed on the fourth line.
“Performance-based,” the coach said of the winger on whom he has habitually lavished tough love since the start of their working relationship in 2013. “We’re working quite a bit with J.T. to improve some of his decisions with the puck. He’s got a tremendous amount of confidence in his ability and in himself, but sometimes the play on the ice demands the high-percentage play.
“You can’t force things that are not there. As much as we like the offensive looks that he’s getting, the ratio of chances for and against needs to be better. There are too many things being forced, and not just in our zone.
“It got to the point where we had to cut his ice time a little bit.”
The examples just keep coming. Sometimes it’s Chris Kreider. Maybe it’s Henrik Lundqvist. It could be Kevin Hayes. Or maybe it’s Adam Clendening. Or most recently Brady Skjei.
The only constant is who it isn’t.
Vigneault might play tough by saying Miller “can’t force things that aren’t there” or “there are too many things being forced, and not just in our zone” but he’s showing his cards. This isn’t blissful ignorance or confusion. This is Vigneault refusing to accept what’s in front of him with this defense, whether it’s intentional or unintentional is another discussion.
The timing doesn’t help, either. Dan Girardi played a game so badly against Ottawa even the crabs were admitting he was off his game. Was there a word about that after the game? No. Was there any type of adjustment during the game? No. Will Girardi be back out on the top pairing tonight against Arizona tonight? Yep.
I’ve addressed just how good Vigneault is at coachspeak, but this year we’re seeing some holes in his strategy. His comments when riding the hot hand with Antti Raanta were bizarre. These comments about Miller are just laughable.
Miller has struggled in his own zone, there’s not a big debate on that. After a roaring start to the year, Miller’s seen a steady decline in possession, scoring chances and general scoring. His role being yanked up and down the lineup doesn’t help — nor does his 1:21 per game of power play time. He should be called out for some of that.
Miller’s 1:21 of power play time per game, by the way, is 14th on the team. Nicklas Jensen averaged 25 more seconds a game in his four games on Broadway. Matt Puempel is just 10 seconds per game behind Miller. You can try to make sense of that if you want, but my guess is it would be a long road that would test your sanity.
My bigger issue with his quote is this little gem: “but sometimes the play on the ice demands the high-percentage play.”
Vigneault has had a knack for stifling creativity when it comes to rookies or kids. Often the “high-percentage play” is chipping the puck into the netrual zone or dumping it in deep. Offense is not created by predictability. Offense is created by puck movement that forces openings, designed plays to find soft spots on the ice, space in general or pure chaos.
Chaos scores a lot of goals. Scrum in front of the net leading to a garbage goal? Chaos. Turnover behind the net leading to scrambling in front? Chaos. A juicy rebound? Chaos.
There’s risk profiles to every single play of every single game. Yes, that long outlet pass has more risk that the generic chip out of the zone, but the upside is much higher.
On a team missing an entire first line of offense, you need to be risky to score goals. Missing Rick Nash, Pavel Buchnevich and Mika Zibanejad doesn’t just hurt the team’s possession, it’s potentially pulling 150 points out of the lineup. You need risk to help minimize that impact. “The safe play” isn’t always the right thing to do. Offensive risks should not be punished or stifled, unless they’re destructive.
What should be punished is when the safe, high-percentage plays can’t be accomplished. Chipping the puck out of the defensive zone into an opposing forward’s lap? That should be punished. Turning the puck over behind the net or in the corners constantly? That should be punished. Doing failed snow angels time and time again? That should be punished. Inability to move the puck out of your own zone, track opposing players in danger areas and chasing the play constantly? That should be punished.
But, rather, it’s Miller who finds himself called out on the ice and through the media.
At this point that’s as predictable as the Rangers offense is.