Oct
14

So what’s up with these Rangers?

October 14, 2017, by
rangers senators

AP / Sean Kilpatrick

We’re now five games deep into the 2017-2018 regular season and the Rangers seem to be having issues winning hockey games. Now, of course this is the smallest of sample sizes, and not to put on my fortune teller hat but I guarantee you they’ll win more than one game this season, but it’s fair to say that there might be some issues with the team. Now you might recall just a week ago I was urging calm after the Rangers dropped their home opener, so how on Earth can I hold these two thoughts in my head at once? Well, in short, I think there’s a distinction to be made between the on-ice play of the team and the structural deficiencies this team displays (although obviously there’s a link – we’ll get to that later).

I still think, as I said last week after the home opener, that there’s not a lot we can tell about how this team will play based on how they’ve played so far. The sample size is just too small – Mika Zibanejad for instance is going to go cold at some point, Hank will have a bad game here and there, and guys who aren’t really making a huge impact right now are going to break out. Over the course of an 82 game season there are going to be ebbs and flows on pretty much every level, and we simply can’t read the tides based on five games’ play.

But there’s clearly issues with this team, there’s not doubt about that. What I’m going to posit here today is that what’s rotten in Denmark is stuff we already knew about, and are things that would be wrong with the team even if they weren’t playing a single game of hockey.

You see, this team is flawed just on paper. Sure, we made a significant defensive upgrade this offseason in signing Kevin Shattenkirk, Brendan Smith, and trading for Anthony DeAngelo. We’ve also got some forwards who are ready to take the next step, namely Pavel Buchnevich and Mika Zibanejad, in addition to our seasoned veterans like Chris Kreider (it will never not feel weird to say that). Still, we’re stuck with the same stubborn coach, we’re lacking another top-nine center, and we’ve still got two anchors on defense just waiting to screw up a fool proof top two pairings. These are significant flaws, that, in concert, can really mess up a good thing.

Let’s start with the Alain Vigneault, because he’s the biggest issue with this team right now. He’s already in some weird playoff hunt crunch time mode, proclaiming to the press “we’re just trying to win some hockey games”, which is a weird thing to say because while yes, we’re always just trying to win some hockey games the time for panic moves is a few months away. Well, he made those panic moves anyways, putting both Marc Staal and Nick Holden with Ryan McDonagh instead of Kevin Shattenkirk, at one point playing him on his offside. He’s juggled up the forward lines almost nightly (with the exception of the KZB line, which has shown already its excellence) and insists on playing Kevin Hayes in a shutdown role, despite Hayes’s demonstration of offensive prowess.

Last night against Columbus he made the bizarre choice to almost exclusively play the KZB line in defensive situations alongside McDonagh and Holden, while the fourth line got significant offensive zone time alongside Shattenkirk and Staal. While line changes are made on the fly and a lot of that had to do with each line’s play, it seems odd that you wouldn’t at least try to get your most offensively gifted line into the offensive zone for a little bit.

So Alain Vigneault is a crazy coach, what else is new? Well, as alluded to above, we’re lacking another top-nine center to play either the second or third line, with Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes being the other two and David Desharnais holding things down on the fourth line. This is the kind of thing that other, more savvy coaches would find a way to work around, but instead AV has decided it means Kevin Hayes can play a shutdown role, something that hasn’t work and continues not to work. The Boston native is clearly one of the more gifted offensive players on the team, so why play him in an offensive role when you can rely on his biggest skill … his backchecking.

Similarly he’s flirted with the idea of playing Miller at center, but keeps juggling the lines to the point where we can’t really get an idea of what that might look like or who he might play best with. If only there were a series of games before the season started that didn’t count where you could experiment as much as you’d like. While I realize that Filip Chytil was at that time tearing it up, if that was such a factor you’d think it would make sense then to give him a chance as an offensive-minded center for longer than ten minutes total ice time.

Finally, we get to Nick Holden and Marc Staal, the other major structural issue that AV has decided to pick up and run with in an almost purposeful attempt to exacerbate this team’s issues instead of finding ways to minimize their impact on the team’s overall play. I’m not going to harp on their defensive issues, since we all know by now what they are as players, but I will say that it seems strange to shoehorn them into high-profile spots in the lineup instead of using, you know, those two heavily sought after free agent defensemen that Jeff Gorton went out an acquired this offseason. This defense was foolproof at the start of the season, and yet the fool at the helm managed a way around all of the easy solution laid out for him by the team’s management. Incredible.

Now, while I started off this post by making a distinction between the structural deficiencies of this team on paper and the way they have and may continue to play, I do think that there’s a link. Obviously a coaches lineup and deployment decisions are going to impact the on-ice product in that the team is going to play worse if it plays a significantly worse roster in awkward, counterintuitive situations. This may not always be the case however, as the Rangers nearly won last night on the back of Henrik Lundqvist, and guys may still play well despite not being suited for certain scenarios (see: Marc Staal’s fortuitous goal against Toronto in the comeback that wasn’t to be).

Still, it’s just plain logic that a team that is bad on paper will eventually be bad on the ice, and a team that creatively finds solutions to its structural issues will probably play better than the former. It may be hard to tell how a team is going to play on any given night, but in the long run, it’s fair to be concerned about the state of this team because over the course of an 82 game season a team with flaws like the Rangers’ is going to perform worse than they otherwise would without those deep seated issue. So while I’m still not panicking about their play, I am a little bit concerned about the state of the team more broadly. You should be too.

"So what's up with these Rangers?", 2 out of 5 based on 15 ratings.

28 comments

  1. Reenavipul says:

    They cycled well last night until they got behind, so at least there’s that.

  2. Spozo says:

    I proposed this question yesterday to someone else complaining about Hayes’s deployment and didn’t get an answer.

    If Hayes doesn’t play the defensive center, then who does? Miller? Zib?

    Him and Desharnais are taking the most defensive draws (small sample size). But how would you change it? Miller is still an adventure defeinvely and Zib is the only Ranger forward scoring right now.

    • Reenavipul says:

      Hayes has been doing the heavy lifting since last December, nobody else on the roster to do it. If he could just get to decent on face offs, it would help tremendously. Your other candidates are in Hartford.

      • Spozo says:

        So you’re saying this is another’s example of “AV’s a moron” but in reality he doesn’t have any other viable options?

        • Reenavipul says:

          The one option missed all of camp due to injury, the other one was replaced by Desharnais.

          So AV is still a moron.

        • Stevesse says:

          How is this on AV. Since the horror show against the Leafs, the team with the Blue line changes has given up 4 goals. The problem is they can’t finish! They miss talent. If they were scoring 3 goals a game,the d pairings would not even be an issue.

  3. Ranger17 says:

    DD played more minutes than most of the forwards last night ,which means he is going to be the one to lead us to the Cup

  4. Bloomer says:

    Shattenkirk is not a defence first pairing. Skjei should get a shot at playing on his off side with McDonough. He has the size and ability.

    DD does not belong on the PP ever. He is a 4th line pivot at best. The Rangers will be better but hard to believe good enough on paper to make the playoffs.

  5. supermaz says:

    Why was Anderson sent back to Sweden, where he can’t help at all this season, instead of Hartford.?

  6. Chris F says:

    This article is a whole lot of crazy.

  7. RichS says:

    Its very early in the season but expansion team Las Vegas has a 3 -1 record…..
    How could a team that was put together with spare parts just a few months ago appear to be so much more organized than this rangers team who has a coach here in his 4,5th ? year….a GM who has been here even longer, and many veteran players??????????????

  8. Mythdoc says:

    Like so many other articles here, this is a conclusion (AV sucks, he needs to be fired) in search of arguments.

    Here’s the reality. AV might well be fired if the team continues to suck. It happens in the course of things. But nobody who has posted or commented here, in many years, knows how to coach an NHL team. (I include myself. But at least I know what I do not know, as Socrates famously said.) Nobody has an inside line on what is being said in the locker room or the back offices. Nobody knows what other GM’s are saying to our GM.

    On the other hand, many could post articles like these. When I asked for the name of the young Ranger whom AV failed to develop, who is thriving elsewhere, I was told that was not the point. Well, what is the point when what passes as an article is guesswork and circular argument??????

  9. Rangers Rock says:

    Someone on the other web blog said it right “We are Fucked!”
    The defenders of AV say there is no better as a coach and we changed players left and right with the same outcome. Some of AV defenders say its the players and year after year we have changed lots of players and coaches except one.
    What is worse having the best players and the worst coach or the best coach and the worst players?
    The reality is We are Fucked!
    We looked at everything else there is one person that is still here making the decisions.

  10. roadrider says:

    I don’t agree at all that “the defense was foolproof” before the season. That’s a fact-free assertion based on assumptions about Shattenkirk’s compatibility with McDonagh, D’Angelo’s readiness and how everything would be great once Dan Girardi was no longer part of the equation (yes, he was a big problem but hardly the only one).

    Shattenkirk has mad the PP click (excepting last night) but at even strength has not been impressive, particularly when, you know, defending – if you can call it that. He was on for quite a few goals in the first two games when paired with McDonagh and got completely undressed on the second Columbus goal last night. I though the McDonagh (right-side)/Staal pairing was a bit bizarre but you know what – the Rangers won that game in a shutout. OK, Hank was brilliant in that game and the opposition wasn’t the most challenging but in the next game the Rangers only allowed 2 even strength goals. Yeah Kampfer coughed up a hair ball that led directly to a goal but so did Skjei.

    So for all your carping about the defense the Rangers have only allowed 4 even strength-goals in the past three games. The problem has been a lack of scoring. That’s not to say that I want to see more of Holden and Kampfer or that D’Angelo should be stapled to the bench (or press box). Its just that I don’t think AV can criticized that much for those moves. I will criticize him and his staff for not having the team prepared to start the season which their shaky play so far seems to indicate.

    Yeah, I thin Hayes is miscast in a defensive specialist role but last night he was with Zucc and Nash. I don’t know the stats on D-zone vs O-zone starts but that’s a line that seems geared to offense. The ZKB line probably got a lot of D-zone starts because of Zib’s proficiency on face-offs.

    As far as the forwards lines, yes, there is a big hole there at C. I didn’t have a problem trading Stepan because of the impending NMC but I did think the FO had a plan for replacing him other than hoping that a 17-year old or an 18-year old would be ready to make the jump to the NHL. I think the Rangers are in for a long season if they can’t find more consistent scoring and all-around play from their top players. I’m not one to over analyze who gets how much ice time in whatever situations. The bottom line is that the Ranger players have to perform better irrespective of their ice time or assignments. Ultimately, its the players that have to force to coach’s hand by getting it done on the ice.

    • roadrider says:

      the Rangers have only allowed 4 even strength-goals in the past three games.

      Actually only three (i’m not counting the ENGs by STL and CBJ). One of the STL goals was on a PP.

  11. Leetchie Nut says:

    If there’s any question as to why Kirk shouldn’t be playing with McD, just take another look at the Panarin goal last nite. Absolutely abysmal D by Kevin. And considering it took far less to scratch Smith, KS’s lucky he doesn’t get to sit as well. Can’t speak to why Holden replaced him with Ryan, but Staal has def earned that spot….at least for now.

    And right now, Gorton is the biggest issue with this team, not AV. The team is still lacking an actual elite center no matter how well Zib has played out the gate (b/c he will taper off.) Mika should be playing like this as a solid #2 center, not #1, b/c after him, there is squat. Again, the onus is on Gorton that AV is forced to move JT to the middle where he is less effective. And putting so many eggs in the Kirk basket when all of his D misgivings were widely publicized before he was signed was also a mistake. In fact, I’d argue Girardi was a better D partner for McD than Kevin is right now, at least at ES…on the PP? Sure put ’em together. But none of Kirk’s play at ES is any surprise really. Exactly as advertised.

    All that being said, the team needs to have played 10 games minimum to see if these problems are temporary or continue to be legit.

  12. Reenavipul says:

    Rangers xGF% is 45.26, their PDO is 96.51.

    So the team is not only bad defensively, they have no puck luck either.

  13. Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

    RR’s post is so bang on correct that I would like to simply copy and paste it and claim it as my own. 🙂

    Mythdoc is also right on the button. If the Rangers keep spiraling, AV will probably get canned, and rightfully so. As Richter has said, his replacement is right next to him on the bench. And while coaching changes can provide a jolt (see 2009 when Torts replaced Renney), it is usually a short lived one as the team will inevitably regress to what they really are (see 2010 when Torts failed to make the playoffs). Short range, you do what you need to do as GM. Long term, it makes no sense to dump a succesful coach UNLESS you have an opportunity to upgrade (see 2013 when AV replaced Torts). So the question is, who will be out there next summer to legitimately upgrade over the top 5-10 coavh we already have?

    Also agree with Chris F on this article being a bit crazy. Sorry Pat, so offense, but this makes no sense. On the one hand, you state that the roster is “flawed” and “bad” on paper. Then you state that the biggest issue is the coach. If the roster is flawed or bad, then how is the coach the biggest issue?

    Catching up on all the posts from the last few days. Some observations. First, we do miss Stepan more than the Stepan critics care to admit. Not saying it was wrong to dump him…the cap is the cap. But we miss him. (And Rich, PLEASE stop with the McIlrath nonsense….he scored his 1 goal in the AHL for crying out loud. My son scored a goal in a floor hockey league the other day. Does that make him better than Stepan too?).

    Grabner has regressed exactly as expected.

    Our offense has been painfully mediocre since mid-February. We removed our number one center from the equation. We are having trouble scoring because our overrated “stars” are not that good and have no finishing ability, and without Stepan the line chemistry is not the same and we are just weaker depth wise.

    Shattenkirk needs time to settle in. But I said this from day one of the trade. We all automatically assumed that Shatty and McDonagh would have this incredible chemistry. I have no idea why people assumed this. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. But the narrative that Shatty, who has NEVER been a top pair defenseman, would suddenly become effective in that role, seemed a bit suspect to begin with. It is more than reasonable for AV to continue to experiment here. And as mentioned by others, all of you screaming for the “right” defensive pairings should realize that our defense has not been the issue the last few games. Since the Toronto game, defensively we’ve been decent to good enough. The issue is our totally overrated forwards, and other than half a season last year, that’s been the issue here since Jagr left. We just dont have finishers who can score enough against quality goaltending.

    One last point from one of the prior posts from yesterday I think. A few folks, I think Reena and a few other of the irrational AV haters, made the point that first Ulfie, then Beuke, now Ruff…the common denominator is AV so he’s obviously the issue. One poster speculated that Ulfie and Beuke probably had had enough and wanted out.

    What a total bunch of crap! AV haters will LITERALLY say anythng to make their point, whether the narrative is blatantly false or not. What ACTUALLY happened….

    Ulfie was with AV for three seasons. He helped guide the Rangers defense to three pretty succesful years, especially the first two. The PK was terrific the first two. Then we lost Hags. Our defense in his final year was totally banged up, and he was forced to play Minor League McIlrath for almost half the games (and in those games, our record was pitiful). Half this board went nuts and screamed for Beuke. I mean, his only real qualification for the job was the fact he was a key figure on our SC team twenty years earlier—as if that has ANYTHNG to do with whether he could be an NHL assistant coach. But everyone screamed for him anyway.

    Well, the dreamers go their wish when Ulfie got a chance to be an AHL head coach. Made perfect sense he would take that job. Great career move and he took it. Unfortunately, there was no NHL caliber assistant available to replace him. Remember how long it took before AV went with him? Obviously, he was the only reasonable option available.

    So Beuke became the guy and obviously, he was totally overmatched in his role. So much so that all agreed he would simply return to a scouting role in the organization. It’s not as if teams were knocking down the door to hire him as an NHL assistant.

    As for Ulfie, the only reason he came back to the NHL after one year was the chance to reunite with arguably his closest friend in hockey—Coach Q, who was his teammate with the Hartford Whalers. To suggest that this was some referendum on AV is so beyond laughable, but again, when it comes to people who are literally blinded by their irrational hate for the coach, they are certainly not above making things up to try and prove a false point.

    I’m still hopeful that this team can turn things around. But if this is going to be one of those years, and AV gets the axe, the TRUE narrative and legacy of this coach will be that he was one of the winningest coaches in Rangers history, INCLUDING more playoff series wins than any Rangers coach in 80 years. And did all that with a deeply flawed and mostly “star-less” roster.

    But sooner or later, when you are the “No-Margin-For-Error” Rangers, and you have no stars to bail you out when the team has struggles, sooner or later, one of these seasons was inevitable.

    • Reenavipul says:

      It’s an honor to be called irrational by a loggorheac such as yourself. Nothing like 5000 words to say nothing.

      • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

        Are you still sore about the other night when you lost your mind (and violated the blogs policy) for some reason after I challenged your totally flawed analysis? I’m so sorry. Google the phone number for an anger management helpline….as soon as you can. 🙂

        Facts are stubborn things. And for all your hockey knowledge, which I would be the first acknowledge is considerable and often impressive, when you are confronted with facts that don’t fit your narrative, you simply can NOT handle it seems.

        But I must remember to never, ever argue or disagree with the Hockey Oracle…for he is never, ever wrong.

        • Bloomer says:

          Yes Eddie let’s send Reena to mad camp. So much expection was build up that getting rid of Girardi and Stepan would solve all the Rangers ills. Now the reality that the Blue Shirts are thin down the middle. And although they have the attacking defenceman that was sought after, their defensive zone has been a shooting gallery. If there has been a bright so far this early season it’s been the play of Lundqvist. Whether or not he can continue to shouldered on remains to be seen.

          • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

            Bloomer, no question you are correct. And to your credit, you called it from the beginning back when it all happened this summer.

            I do think though, and I think you would agree (although I don’t want to speak for you), that realistically, they needed to move on from both Girardi and Stepan, certainly in the latter case due solely to the soon to be activated NMC in Stepan’s deal. I thought for sure Gorton would have made a trade for a center, but he was obviously unable to do so. Now we have a significant weakness down the middle. Yet somehow, we are supposed to be BETTER offensively than we were last year? Would love for someone to explain how that would be possible.

            I do think the defense has been better in recent games. Shatty needs time to adjust to the Rangers, and the Rangers need time to adjust to him. While I understand the rationale for getting rid of Girardi, I think they miss his leadership (and Stepan’s) more than anyone would care to admit.

            And considering you have been a critic of Hank, your praise of his play says a lot about your ability to be objective and not be locked into an agenda…and I always respect that.

      • Rangers Rock says:

        The coach haters are irrational and your not? Dracula jr. does not want us to believe our own eyes but believe what he said. OK, I can only look at the results and it is pitiful. We lose and the major contributor is AV. The buck does not stop here it stops with the players. Losers will blame everyone else.
        Go back to sleep Drucla Jr.!

        • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

          So the record matters when we are losing, yet you disregard the record the last four seasons during what has been arguably the best four year stretch record wise the Rangers have had in their long history—and without ANY high end players other than the goalie. You are the text book example of what I am referring to…a man with an agenda that disregards any fact that doesnt fit his flawed narrative.

          And by the way, the other day, you actually said that Hank was the “elephant in the room”, implying that he is no longer good. Still feel that way after last night?

          As I said, the HOF goalie and probable HOF coach—those guys you hate. The rest of the underachievers are somehow “stars” in your book. Welcome to the Bizarro World!

          • Rangers Rock says:

            Your right Hank had 1 1/2 good games.
            Actually, I thought we had a team that could win but the problem was the coach. I still believe that. That elephant in the room is still a liability.
            The truth you are trying to spue is as genuine as Hollywood.
            Bizarro World is the real world. AV is a HOF Loser! He takes great teams and sabotages them with his decision making.
            Nobody hates the coach we hate his decisions. Just like I don’t hate you even if your Dracula. 😉
            By the way, How can I be wrong! I was right for 3 years, I gave him a year before I had to call him out.
            I would say you have been wrong for 4 years.

            • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

              Then Rangers haven’t had a “great” team since 1994. Please show me the “great”players on this team, other than Hank.

              They have had good to very good teams for about 12 years now. The pinnacle of those years came with AV coaching them. That’s fact. He’s made the playoffs with two different teams for 9 straight years. Extremely rare in the cap era. He’s won more playoff series than any Ranger coach in 80 years. He’s coached this bunch to three 100+ point seasons in a row, again, a rare feat in the cap era.

              So you define that record as a “loser” record, but the majority of the players, who have been painfully average or just above average, they are somehow “great”?

              As I said, only in the Bizarro World, where facts are fiction and fiction is fact.

  14. Bloomer says:

    Yes Eddie let’s send Reena to mad camp. So much expection was build up that getting rid of Girardi and Stepan would solve all the Rangers ills. Now the reality that the Blue Shirts are thin down the middle. And although they have the attacking defenceman that was sought after, their defensive zone has been a shooting gallery. If there has been a bright so far this early season it’s been the play of Lundqvist. Whether or not he can continue to shouldered on remains to be seen.

  15. CTfan says:

    It seems as if most people here seem to miss what I consider AV’s second biggest problem. His biggest being he falls in love with proven stiffs as long as they are close to or over 30. Desharnais being his latest squeeze, along with Carey and Cracknall, and of course Holden and Kampfer. His next biggest problem is his tendency to panic if one of his better players has a bad shift. Quick, let’s show everyone how great a coach I am by changing up lines. And then l can go with 7 D so I can screw up all four lines, or at least three. AV. Still clueless after all these years.