Sometimes the New York Rangers can't get out of their own way. Often it's Alain Vigneault's inability (or unwillingness) to adapt or evolve his strategy, system or lineup.
The Rangers lost two games over the weekend in horrific fashion. After blowing a lead with a 31-second game-trying goal by Brad Richards, the Rangers put together one of the worst two-period efforts they've had all year in a big loss to the Penguins. The result of the Rangers recent struggled (5-4-1 in their last 10) is the Rangers being tied with the Islanders in points (NYI have a game in hand, so they're technically second in the division) and just three points ahead of Pittsburgh in the Wild Card.
So what does Vigneault do to make sure his team is ready for this expected-to-be brutal West Coast trip?
We're back to square one, really. Yeah, spare me the "one player doesn't make a difference" nonsense. It does, actually, and you can read all about here or even here -- from an article written in October of 2014.
To follow that up, Adam helps us highlight some of the other recent decisions here:
This must be "the process." pic.twitter.com/0aZ1PelhVQ— Adam Herman (@AdamZHerman) March 16, 2016
This is backward behavior. Vigneault's "I need to get trusted veterans in the lineup" aside, no one in the media seemed to really be bothered to drill into why Oscar Lindberg is the healthy scratch when he adds more to the lineup than Glass. No one seems to bat an eye when quality players who are young are benched or demoted for mistakes while other "trusted veterans" can make mistake after mistake without any retribution.
And no one should be surprised that this lineup (with Lindberg sitting and Glass in) is the lineup Vigneault prefers for the playoffs, even though I tried to at the very least to do my part by pointing out how insane it would be to dress an inferior lineup this year -- in what's probably the last year this group has to get to the Stanley Cup. From that Story:
Vigneault has historically played favorites throughout his career -- a trend that followed him from Vancouver. He leans on veterans and snubs rookies despite them playing better than the players he leans on. He has contorted his lineup to allow Glass to play a prominent role, thrown other skilled players under the bus publicly while turning a blind eye to his struggling favorites and scratched/benched youth as punishment for poor play while allowing his guys enough leash to hang the entire team.
It was this thinking that helped sink the ship last year. Dan Girardi got torched by theLightning's triplets line, and Vigneault never deviated from that matchup (when he had control at least). Glass and the fourth line got demolished as the playoffs went on, and the Rangers -- despite some pretty massive injuries -- still came a win away from facing Chicago for the Stanley Cup. That's how close the Rangers were, and with the razor's edge the playoffs is won and lost on, Vigneault should have gotten far more heat for his lineup decisions then and he didn't. That trend followed as this year started.
And yet here we are. The Rangers are slowing losing their grip on a non-wildcard playoff spot (who doesn't want to play Washington in the first round?) and their reaction is to go back to the worst lineup they have, dressing their worst player over someone who brings something to the table and to continue turning a blind eye to the massive defensive issues that have plagued this team.
It doesn't even end there, though. Yesterday when asked about Keith Yandle by Dan Rosen of NHL.com, Jeff Gorton said this:
Spoke to Jeff Gorton of @NYRangers on Yandle's future. He said "never say never," but he also touted Skjei's development, age and contract.— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) March 15, 2016
Now, this is an off-hand comment made long before the offseason, so there's a grain of salt with this comment. But that comment seems to be a far cry from something along the lines of "we're going to do everything we can to keep him around because he's very important to this team." That comment would still be cliche and vague enough to get the job done. "Never say never" insinuates the Rangers don't really think they have a way to keep him, but maybe he'll sign a super cheap deal and they can figure it out.
And just to confirm, the Rangers think Brady Skjei can A) replicate Yandle's offensive production and presence, B) do it right away and C) do it when the Rangers have a coach who plays favorites with veterans, probably won't give Skjei real minutes until he's forced to and will punish him for every little mistake he makes?
It's almost like the Rangers are working as two different organizations. The team that traded so much for Yandle because they needed a power play specialist can't possibly be the same team that is burying his power play minutes (it will be the lowest total in his career) while treating him like a third-pairing defenseman, right? The team that "went all in" with Eric Staal can't possible be the same team that played Glass more than him in a critical loss to the Penguins down two in the third right after acquiring him, right? The team that has to win at all costs because their bad players are only getting worse with time couldn't possibly dress an inferior lineup every day without anyone batting an eye, right?
Except that's exactly what's happening. It's because the Rangers have lost their way, again.
And no in the organization seems to care enough or be willing to rock the boat to help them find it.