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Evaluating Alain Vigneault seven games in

Don’t jump to any conclusions after seven games

Before the already numerous Alain Vigneault haters get their tail feathers ruffled, remember that we are only SEVEN games into the season, so none of this means a whole lot yet.  However, Vigneault was brought in to implement widespread changes to the team’s tactics and approach to the game, so we are understandably keeping a close eye on the new bench boss in the early going.  So without further ado, here are several of the things we expected from Vigneault when he was hired, and how they’ve actually turned out in the infancy of the 2013-2014 campaign.

Less line juggling - Not so much.  To be fair, Vigneault would be much better able to keep his preferred combinations together if the Rangers hadn’t been ravaged by the injury bug, but so far Vigneault has shifted his players around as much as John Tortorella ever did.  Taylor Pyatt on the first line?  Come on.

Carefully planned zone starts - Granted, Rick Nash has only played in three games, but according to Extra Skater he’s started a whopping 77.3% of his shifts in the offensive zone (when comparing OZ versus DZ, and eliminating NZ starts from the equation), significantly more than any Ranger did last season under Torts.  Brad Richards has clocked in at 70.7%, also much higher than a year ago.  After that, there aren’t many Blueshirts that have been given significantly more cushy assignments than their teammates.  Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore and Derek Dorsett have been deployed almost exclusively in their own zone – each has started 32% or less of their shifts in the attacking zone.  Last season, Boyle was Tortorella’s most relied on defensive forward, and he still started 38.3% of his shifts in the O-zone.  Vigneault is already working hard at this and it will only become easier when some of his key soldiers return.

More offense - Oof.  New York has managed just 11 goals in seven games – a paltry average of 1.6 goals per game.  Last year, New York ranked 15th in the league at 2.63 goals per game and in 2011-2012 they tallied 2.71 goals per contest.  Many thought offensive-minded players like Nash, Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard would flourish under Vigneault, but so far only three Ranger forwards (Richards, Callahan and Dorsett) have scored this season. It was also expected that the aforementioned offense would come at the expense of team defense, and unfortunately that has proven true.  The Rangers rank dead last in the league, allowing 4.1 goals per game.

Chris Kreider would finally get an opportunity - Again, Vigneault’s hand has been forced a bit by injuries, but he gave Kreider every opportunity to succeed at training camp by placing him alongside Richards and Nash.  Now Vigneault is teaming the youngster up with Richards and Derek Stepan following his recall.  It’s going to be up to Kreider to prove that he deserves that spot, but Vigneault is at least prepared to give him the ice-time and linemates to make that possible.

Everyone gets a clean slate – Vigneault has followed through on this.  Players that Tortorella ignored were able to earn Vigneault’s favor with their hard work in training camp and Vigneault kept who he himself thought were his best players.  The one question mark here is the Marty Biron situation.  Biron has repeatedly said this week that he was contemplating retirement entering camp, but it’s still a mystery what went on with Biron during his early absence that led Vigneault to bring in Johan Hedberg.  Did Vigneault already know that Biron’s heart wasn’t in it, or did he think he might need a better backup?

More puck possession - You don’t have to bother examining advanced statistics to see that this has been a complete disaster thus far.  That said, injuries again deserve a large amount of the blame and seven games are way, way too few to determine whether Vigneault’s new system (wonderfully explained by The Suit here) is a failure.  The players need much more time to learn their new roles.

Better power play – New York is converting at a 16.2% clip through seven games, just slightly better than its 15.7% pace of a year ago.  However, the new coach spent a considerable amount of time at training camp and in practice working on the man advantage, and his players have been glowing about how much more confident and optimistic they feel about their power play unit.  The results have been slow to come, but it certainly seems like the power play is on the right track, if for no other reason than the players’ mindset toward it has improved.

Less attention to blocked shots – A year ago, New York finished sixth in the league with 773 blocks, 16.1 per game.  According to the sometimes less than reliable realtime statisticians at the seven road arenas the Rangers have played in this season, they’ve blocked 108 shots in seven games so far this year, 15.4 per game.  Of course, that number is also a little skewed considering how much time opponents have spent pinning the Blueshirts in their own zone, so indeed the Rangers do seem to be blocking shots at a lower rate.  Still, the idea that the Rangers were going to abandon their “Black & Blueshirts” style under Vigneault was clearly a fallacy – look no further than the broken thumb that has Ryan Callahan on the shelf for the next month.

So what can we learn from all this?  As mentioned at the top, basically nothing.  Seven games will be a blip on the radar when the season’s over, but these trends are certainly worth monitoring as the year progresses.

35 Responses to “Evaluating Alain Vigneault seven games in”

  1. The Suit says:

    Very good post Kevin. Obviously 7 games is tough to evaluate much of anything on, but it will be interesting to monitor these things over the course of the season.

    Of course, AV could end up doing pretty much everything differently than Torts, but all that matters in the end is, does he get us closer to or even bring us the Cup? For me, that’s ultimately why Torts was fired and why AV was brought in, so anything less is a failure IMO.

    PS- What ever happened to all the Torts haters on this blog like SalMerc, Joe, Evan, etc who posted the same crap over and over every day? Think they took their act to Vancouver?

    • Puck Luck (@Centerman21) says:

      Does it seem as if this team wasn’t prepared for the start of the season. Maybe there was too much for AV to absorb in too little time to get aklimated. It seems like he is having more trouble learning this team than the players are to his system

      • AD says:

        Amen to that

      • Dave says:

        Tough to really quantify that. Team didn’t get to under 30 guys in the preseason until all the games were over. Tough to get used to a new system when the NHL club hadn’t played a game together until Game 1.

        Also, 3 top 6 forwards are out.

        • Scully says:

          This.

          I’ve got friends calling me panicking about how bad the rangers are. It’s SEVEN games into an 82 game season. Similarly… If this was 14 games into a 162 game baseball season, only George Steinbrenner ca. 1985 would be clamoring to fire the coach/manager.

          We all know firing a manager 14 games into a 162 game baseball season is pure boneheadedness… so we should take a similar approach to complain about AV being an underwhelming coach considering it’s a new relationship (his staff and his players) where they’ve not played a single minute of training camp/pre-season/early season on home ice and not to mention the amount of forced line shuffling do to injuries and a holdout. I mean c’mon… this isn’t a Barry Melrose situation.

          This is not the team (even if the personnel is exactly the same) we’ll be seeing in December, January, February etc… once the system is firmly entrenched, roles are more defined and players are healthy.

          Let’s just get healthy, get home (where we’ll have a nice long home stand to make up lost ground) and get AV’s system meshed with the old Torts system in each player’s brain. If we can go 10 games with everyone healthy we’ll see a serious improvement in our compete level and overall contention.

    • Spozo says:

      Can you let rickyrants back on for like a day? I kind of miss that guy.

  2. Bloomer says:

    AV has been a coach in the NHL for a long time. He coached the Montreal Canadiens, for a stint then moved on to Vancouver and now the Rangers. When he first arrived in New York, there was an expectation that he would move the club forward, as he was what was needed to improved the team. AV coaching record and his traits as a coach are already clear. He has a winning record, took the Canucks to the Stanley Cup finals and I believe in the hockey world, he is considered a good coach. However, he is no Scotty Bowman.
    With what he has to work with, particularly considering all the current injuries to the team, he has a very challenging job ahead of him. I think the New York fans need to give him a chance.

    • Mikeyyy says:

      +1

      7 games in his goalie is playing hurt. His elite winger out with a concussion.

      His young guys not playing up to snuff

      His old guys not bringing their a game, except br.

      His captain just broke his hand, and when cally plays the team responds.

      9 game road trip to start the season and it wasn’t until just recently that he is solidifying his lineup.

      Change takes time. I still give him to game 20. Not looking at the record looking at how they are playing at the 20 game mark. No improvement , then av needs to go.

    • Puck Luck (@Centerman21) says:

      Patiance is not a strong suit of NYers. I agree though. I just think the coaching staff should have gotten to a final roster earlier than they did. With the new staff the trip to Banff was a mistake.

      • Mark says:

        agree that short term patience is not a strong suit, but the rangers fans have been patient for years and years and really support the team and brand. it is frustrating, however, to deal with so many GM mistakes. Having said that,the losing early is one thing (and i agree that the whole banff thing was way off), but they are getting pretty much killed in their loses. There is nothing going on here. I give it 10 more games and then the real howling will begin. I just dont think the offense can get it done without Nash though.

  3. Walt says:

    As Bloomer said, New York fans need to give the coach a chance!! No truer words were ever spoken.

    Given all of the injuries, and the fans wanting instant gradification, this guy has a huge hill to navigate. He is a quality coach, no Scotty Bowman, well how many Scotty Bowmans are there?? This is a thinking man behind the bench, doesn’t try to dictate, and gives his players all kinds of rope for them to play with. Maybe that is the problem, they were pounded on daily basis by Torts, between periods, and the team played like robots. They blocked shots all day, and we played in our zone so long that it was boring, and dangerious for our players as well.

    Once the dust settles, and the key players that are out return, and Hank gets his act together, we will see if he will be successful in this town, or not. I say 20-25 games will tell us what we can expect, and by then if changes are needed, then the entire organization has to have a pow wow and come up with a solution. That’s not to say that we don’t have dead wood on the ice, and they should be history, “Yesterday” at that!

    • AD says:

      I thought I read it all until I just read this post.

      So, Tortorella’s coaching style in past seasons may be why the team is losing games in a horrific manner this season? Really?

      Oh my….

      Do you find it at all curious as to why the Canucks are making their share of mistakes learning Tortorella’s new system, yet they are playing better as a team?

      AV is more than a reputable coach; yet, statistically, we have just a few weeks to turn this around or we can start thinking next season for the playoffs. As a statistics guy, I am sure AV is aware of these facts.

      • Puck Luck (@Centerman21) says:

        That’s why I think Sather might make a “Shake em up” move quickly. Before this team is in a deep hole it can’t win its way out of. Sather is probably scratching his head and word is he has been making calls. At this point he needs a 3rd line. Zuc can be traded with his tiny salary. Pyatt & Boyle could fetch a player. I think the team can live with Falk as the 6th defenseman and move DZ. It’s not too early IMO and I usually think they should hold.

        • AD says:

          I think your insights on this may very well be spot on.

          Hank, Cally and Girardi, though, will all be UFAs at end of season. There is a chance Sather completely hits the restructuring button.

        • branted says:

          Here’s the scenario the way I see it. Torts did such a good job with this squad that it actually got him fired. He got these players to overachieve by implementing a style that was best suited for them and was highly successful IMO. This provoked Sather to believe his players were better than they were, even offensively which they clearly aren’t. So he fires the coach thinking that the system was the problem and brings in a guy that has had success with a superstar roster. So here we are with a team full of grinders, 2 way guys, n defensive defensemen trying to play a superstar system and this is the result. This will only provoke Sather to make more terrible moves to try and cover his errors. Lets wait n see but i can definitely see some of the good young players being traded for underachieving high priced has beens in a desperate attempt to save the season.
          A good coach knows how to get a team to play to its strength, hopefully AV figures it out before Sather adds more dreadful decisions to his resume. Fire Sather, LGR!!!

          • Kevin says:

            Don’t think you’re far off on the first part of this point re. Torts.

          • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

            It could very well be Tortorella’s success with a marginally talented team he inherited caused his demise (although he basically confirmed player discord).
            What I believe is inaccurate is that this is the same team Tortorella inherited 5 years ago.
            The evolution of this team in the past two years has resulted in some top end talent being infused into a core of two-way players and defensive defensemen.
            I thought Tortorella deserved another season, but don’t undersell the talent this team has when healthy.
            Nash, Richards, Callahan, Stepan (possibly Brassard) are all legit top 6 players and would be on most teams in the NHL. The mix is good enough, the team (and coach) have to put it together (and get healthy).

            • branted says:

              Cally and Step both 2 way guys, Richards has been much better than last year but i think Nash is a big overrated softy. Alot of his flashy puck control plays usually lead to a few oohs and ahhs but thts it. Gabby is a better scorer who shld still be here if ya want to hire a coach like AV.

          • Tony says:

            I feel branted hit the nail (Yakupov – is he coming to NY soon?) on the head…

            IMO, the Rangers’ identity was a reflection of a coach. He felt the team’s best chance of success was with younger players taught to protect the house and a goaltender that could benefit from a low risk, low chance, tight games. It is always easier (insert military reference here…) to mold young men to do the dirty work. Doing so forced Slats to not focus on superstars as much as he’d like. Developing Cally, Girardi, Staal, Dubi, & Artie…acquiring McD, Feds, Prust & Boyle for nothing is a pretty good track record, but there is always the odd Enver Lison deal to make you shake your head. Otherwise Slats loves the big name talent. Bringing in Gabby worked pretty well, but Drury, Gomez, & Redden were disasters that are case-studies In GM-ing for Dummies. He may ultimately have compounded the FA disasters (both signings & losses) with trades (examples abound from Nik Zhredev to Rick Nash) that have sapped the grit & competitiveness in search of offense. AV needs time, but this team has the markings of an ill-prepared team that is relived that their prior task-master coach is elsewhere, regardless of their record, etc. I think the article which generated these posts points out that the jury is still out on AV, but the early returns make it seem like a rebuild is not far in the horizon.

            • branted says:

              Tyutin and Korpo are very good players now, Lisin and Zherdev complete busts. Im scared as hell of these types of trades happening with the youngsters we have now. Rumor is Slats looking to trade Kreider…… ugh!!!

  4. Dave says:

    Regarding Biron, I would have to think Biron told AV, and it left him scrambling a bit.

  5. Andrei says:

    People who bash AV for putting Pyatt on the first line forget that the former managed to wring out career highs out of the latter in Vancouver.

    You can’t blame AV for trying, especially with all the injuries.

    • AD says:

      37 points on a line with the Sedin twins is actually closer to being embarrassing, than an accomplishment.

      Also, this was 7 years ago…..7!

      Having said that, I thought Pyatt played well the game he was on the top line, and nearly scored a goal.

  6. Mikeyyy says:

    If we are comparing remember torts had the team for the last part of a season. He had to to acclimate and implement.

    He also blew that seasons playoffs in the last game of the season

    Gotta give him time.

  7. Ray says:

    I think the key is Carefully Planned Zone Starts. When you are getting to know what your personnel can and can’t do, it’s as bad an idea as there is. It makes scoring about your stars and has got to kill morale (unless you are winning, then only maybe). Last year we had only two lines, now we have only one.

  8. Joe says:

    Lets see what happens when they get back to the Garden.

    I expect them to return at 4-5…a little home cooking could do wonders.

  9. Rangers Rock says:

    What did Tort do with injured players during the season. They did fine. And even in the playoffs.

  10. Doug Peters says:

    With a change at the top late in summer more time should have been spent new systems in training camp. Better preparation so that season would have started on a better note. Travelling across Western Canada did start team out on good note though the team was to have alot games to start on West Coast.

    Working behind closed doors in Greenburgh may have been a better training camp but maybe this does not go with “clean slate” program. Just think a better camp on home ground would have put all on the same page to begin with.

    But, what is done, is done.

    Let’s hope AV can bring them along. I s he the right coach for this mix of players?

  11. Mark says:

    so lets say the Rangers get their act together a bit. What are they? They dont have the overall talent to compete with Penguins, they dont nearly have the grit to compete with Bruins. So at best, unless some of the players really develop, they are a team with: a solid homogenous set of defensemen, a top goalie, and a few talented yet soft (except for Callahan who is not soft) forwards. That is not enough after having over a decade to put a team together.

  12. bernmeister says:

    I disagree strenuously with this:

    “Chris Kreider would finally get an opportunity – Again, Vigneault’s hand has been forced a bit by injuries, but he gave Kreider every opportunity to succeed at training camp by placing him alongside Richards and Nash. Now Vigneault is teaming the youngster up with Richards and Derek Stepan following his recall. It’s going to be up to Kreider to prove that he deserves that spot, but Vigneault is at least prepared to give him the ice-time and linemates to make that possible.”

    It is a fact that a lot of Kreider’s time was wasted with both Pyatt and Boyle.

    Then on top of that, he forced Kreider to not be Kreider, but work specifically on deflections from in front. There is nothing wrong with that, except that like bunting in baseball, it’s an acquired skill. If you got Bryce Harper gifted talent, but he doesn’t bunt like Rod Carew, you don’t stop him from being Bryce Harper.

    Lastly, while Stepan is an improvement, this is still stupid. It is NOT the MOST COMPLEMENTARY matchup their is, which was evident from training camp.

    JT Miller is the only C we have with wheels to not only keep up w/Kreider at full tilt, but also interact (give and go) successfully. Add a fast RW (Cally or Fast) and you have a line in which speed kills.

    Ideally, you want maximum skill set and versatility from every player. But bottom line is there should be a Kreider – Miller – Fast unit as at least 2nd if not top line, 3 young guys who can handle max minutes.

    That’s the ticket!!

  13. FrankCerbone says:

    Kreider did not do well down in Hartford; no even strength goals, a minus one, 16 PM with no fighting majors. Even Mashinter, with no PP time outscored him with 5 pts, and a +2. Kreider is being shopped, drafting him & Skjei were Clark’s most recent mistakes.

    Didn’t Sather also sign Samuelson & Holik to long term contracts?

    Next season center Andrew Cogliano is a UFA and will upgrade Ranger team speed dramatically. He is 2nd only to Hagelin in speed and has not missed a game in 6 years in the NHL. He is only 26.. But he is terrible at faceoffs.

    • bernmeister says:

      Kreider will be fine.
      But I would like it if the writing on the wall, as plain as day, is observed and not ignored. Generally speaking the overall better the talent you play with, the overall better the result of that specific player.

      However, of the Cs on the squad, Miller is the most complementary and best option as to the key element of speed.

      So the faster AV just does it my way, the better off we will be. It’s bad enough he was wasted in preseason w/Pyatt and Boyle.

      Skjei was a solid pick, possibly a great one. Another superior skater. Just because he didn’t jump from college to pro with close to zero time in the minors, don’t diss the pick.

      Peace out.

  14. FrankCerbone says:

    Another UFA next season is Tannger Glass-the most efficient fighter in the NHL

    Glass 48 fighting majors in his career and only 380 total PM

    Matt Martin 37 fighting majors 357 total PM

    Dorsett 62 fighting majors 759 PM

    Like I said before the season Dorsett is a PM machine…a whole lot of minors & misconducts
    Spends a lot of his time in the box.

  15. Dorsett also has 562 hits to go with his 759 PM.

    Glass has 705 hits versus 380 PM.

    Tanner Glass is just the perfect/efficient physical presence machine in the NHL.

    Send Glass out on the ice to be physical/fight without taking any stupid penalties.

    Sather just doesn’t do this kind of statistical analysis….fighting/hitting/PM effficieny.