The New York Rangers are being out-coached in this series. Plain and simple. If you, like the media, decide to put your head in the sand on this matter, then this article isn’t for you.
Being a successful hockey coach means being able to learn on the fly and to make adjustments. It’s about using the regular season to figure out what does and does not work, and once you’ve figured it out you hone those skills. You learn lessons and adjust again. You’ll never get it exactly right because the moment you think you’ve figured it out, another team just discovered something else that makes it ineffective.
Playoff hockey is like that on steroids. Unlike the regular season, you don’t have the luxury of having a few weeks to allow things to settle. Four losses end the season, and the Rangers just took their second loss. And it’s the way they lost — the exact same way they lost Game 2 against Montreal — that makes this inexcusable.
Once again, Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith found themselves stapled to the bench with five minutes remaining in the third and the Rangers protecting a lead. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s EXACTLY THE SAME THING that burned the Rangers against Montreal. What happened? EXACTLY THE SAME THING. Skjei (who had two goals and was easily the Rangers best defenseman) didn’t even see 18 minutes in a double overtime game. Smith - Skjei was easily Vigneault’s best pairing, and they got the least amount of time of any defenseman at evens.
How Jeff Gorton -- who moved a 2nd and 3rd round pick for Smith — can sit there silently as his head coach misuses Smith is beyond me. Shades of the Keith Yandle usage flash across my eyes and suddenly my head is heavy and I need to take a nap. Vigneault. Doesn’t. Learn. Lessons.
Only this time, it gets even better. Pavel Buchnevich and Oscar Lindberg both played less than seven minutes the entire game. That’s right, both players were punished for unknown reasons and now Buchenvich will be benched for Tanner Glass in Game 3. I would bet my house on that happening, and if it’s that easy for me to pick out then it’s easy for the opposition. Imagine John Tortorella having a game like that? The media would have had him on a skewer. Instead they tiptoed around Vigneault because that’s what they do. Rinse, lather, repeat.
Player usage has been an issue and continues to be one. J.T. Miller -- who has easily been the Rangers worst forward — was also punished, but not to the extent of Buchnevich and Lindberg. Also, both of those players were very good in their time they were actually allowed to play. It’s arbitrary punishment, players get a long leash that never ends, and the entire team suffers for it.
On the game-winning goal the Rangers forwards couldn’t even get back because they were so exhausted. Why, in an overtime game, would you staple two players to the bench completely? What is there to be gained? The only thing you’re doing is running the guys you are playing into the ground until it burns you. Which, by the way, it finally did.
Nick Holden was an issue all night. That’s an evergreen sentence, though, so I’m not breaking news. And yet again, he was thrust over the bench for a key role late in regulation and through the overtimes. He was burned bad on the game winner. Does any of this sound familiar? Of course it does, because it happened in the first round already. Will anything change on the back end for Game 3? Of course it won’t, because Vigneault doesn’t learn lessons.
Vigneault is over-matched. It’s clear he’s not capable of removing himself from the ideology that his trusted veterans are always the best option even when they aren’t. His usage of players continues to boggle the mind, and the media continues to not ask about it so no one really knows what’s going on in his head. It’s infuriating, and it’s not changing because he seems incapable of changing.
The Rangers had no business losing the game on Saturday. In the event the coach used his best players top to bottom then the chat would be about them not performing. Instead the story is once again about the coach who can’t get out of his own way and is sinking the team with his bad decisions. Lundqvist deserves some blame here, too, but he’s far down my list of problems. Two of those six goals could be called soft and one of those two might be me being harsh.
The Rangers no longer have any room to make mistakes in this series. This is a team that plays better with their backs against the wall, but they have to be deflated. The Rangers got shelled in Game 1 and only managed to lose unluckily because Henrik Lundqvist was an animal. In Game 2 Vigneault went back to the worn out methods that cost the Rangers so dearly already. Two games they could have won, one game they should have, and a 0-2 hole going back to Madison Square Garden.
It’s concerning that the man at the helm who can fix all this is also the man who is causing the most problems.
Maybe he’ll learn his lesson.
Historically he has not.