Alain Vigneault has certainly earned the criticism levied against him for the Rangers’ crushing defeats in Game 2 and Game 5 in Ottawa. It’s fair to argue that if the Blueshirts fail to turn this series around that the coach should be handed his walking papers. I certainly think he should.
But in hockey, a coach’s role in his team’s success or failure is very difficult to quantify. Hockey is an extremely fast and fluid sport, where the onus is primarily on the players to put forth the requisite effort, but also execute in their plays and positioning with and without the puck. It’s a read-and-react sport, and those reads need to be made while playing at a breathtakingly quick pace. Yes, Vigneault could certainly help the cause by putting the best players on the ice in the right situations, but it’s also not his fault that this happened:
The Rangers forwards on the ice for this play – Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, and Tanner Glass – handled this about as poorly as they possibly could have. While I’m no expert, I can tell you right now that of all the things you need to prevent in this situation, a diagonal, cross-ice pass is right at the top of the list. For a team that talks ad nauseam about “structure”, this play shows an alarming lack of it.
Stepan leads the list of Rangers who are underperforming in the playoffs and ultimately, that’s what this season is going to come down to. As has often been the case over the course of the last decade, the best skater in this playoff series is on the opponent’s roster (even though he’s clearly injured, it’s Erik Karlsson). And while Jeff Gorton should be commended for revamping the Rangers by amassing superior forward depth to cover up for the team’s defensive deficiencies, that depth means nothing if a preponderance of the “top guys” fail to show up.
JT Miller and Kevin Hayes have yet to score. Rick Nash – who may very well be dealing with an injury, considering his conspicuous absence from recent practices – has slowed down since his hot start against Montreal. Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad have been inconsistent. Among the forwards, only Mats Zuccarello has brought his best effort consistently throughout the postseason, and it seems as though the Norwegian is becoming frustrated with the uneven play from his teammates. His comments in Sunday’s New York Post certainly came off as a bit accusatory.
Players like Oscar Lindberg, Michael Grabner, Jesper Fast, and even Glass deserve the praise they’ve received, but the hard truth is that if those are your best forwards, you probably don’t deserve to advance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And this is all to say nothing about a defense that, without Henrik Lundqvist behind it, probably wouldn’t have been good enough to even qualify for the playoffs.
Time is running out. The Rangers’ season is at a crossroads, and could end on Tuesday unless their top players begin to elevate their games."Season's Fate Is In the Hands of the Rangers Players, Not Alain Vigneault",