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Blessed with plenty of depth, Alain Vigneault is reducing icetime for his stars

Blessed with plenty of depth, Alain Vigneault is reducing ice time for his stars

In his column yesterday, the Post’s Larry Brooks wondered if New York’s choppy start is in part due to an inability to find the proper motivation for relatively meaningless early-season tilts, as well as general fatigue and wear and tear suffered by key players.

Whether or not that’s a viable excuse for the team’s uneven performance thus far – and no one within the organization would ever admit it if it was – one of the early trends of the 2015-2016 season seems to be a conscious decision by coach Alain Vigneault to put an increased emphasis on resting his squad, specifically, its biggest stars.  Read More→

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alain vigneault

Alain Vigneault (Source: Getty Images)

The coaching of Alain Vigneault has come under fire in past months, as he appeared to be routinely outcoached by Barry Trotz and Jon Cooper in the playoffs. Compounding this was his decision to play Tanner Glass regularly, a decision which left most fans baffled.

But Vigneault is a Jack Adams finalist, so it’s not like he was all bad this season. He did a lot of good, and there’s a ready why he’s a Jack Adams finalist.

Good: Easing the kids into the lineup

The Rangers came into camp with a lot of question marks on the roster. No one knew what to expect of Kevin Hayes, who made the roster out of camp, and was transitioning to a new position. J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast were sent back to the AHL to work on little things in their games as well. In the end, it wound up being the right decision.

Vigneault took the slow approach with the roster, seeing what he had in veterans Ryan Malone, Matt Lombardi, and Chris Mueller. All three played a good portion of the first two months with the big club. Perhaps Vigneault wanted to see what they had, or perhaps he wanted to buy time for the kids to develop properly.
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It’s almost unfair. Every article I read about coach of the year candidates, Alain Vigneault barely gets any ink. As beloved as AV is by the NY beat, outside of the metro, he might as well be a ghost.

Deciding who should be the coach of the year is almost an impossible exercise. No one really knows what goes on during film sessions, private meetings with players, etc. Despite years of detailing hockey tactics and systems, most who cover this game still can’t explain which coaches employ an overload and why. Instead, postseason wins and losses are unfairly the only metric.

Make no mistake though. Alain Vigneault is a very good coach. If it weren’t for Roberto Luongo becoming allergic to pucks in 2011 or matching up against one of the deepest NHL teams in recent memory last summer, AV would share more ink with Mike Babcock and Joel Quenneville.

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Regardless of their current record, the Rangers have a lot of passengers at present – quite a few players need to improve beyond just the four we discussed yesterday. If we were being critical, how much of the solid yet unspectacular record the Rangers currently have is the product of Rick Nash’s season (so far) and Henrik Lundqvist’s December hot streak? You can argue core players such as Chris Kreider, Ryan McDonagh, and others need to be better, but you can also reasonably suggest Alain Vigneault needs to change as well.

Most elite players (goaltending aside) around the league are ridden by their head coaches: Double shifted, out on the ice as much as reasonably possible. Sure, at times John Tortorella rode his star players too much, which can be counterproductive but consider this: Amongst the top-30 goal scorers in the league, Rick Nash sits just 19th in ice time. Nash is definitely not playing too much.

Those with less ice time than Nash included Tampa’s Kucherov, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar in Detroit, and Max Pacioretty of Montreal – players on clubs who, arguably, all ice more balanced and deeper line-ups than the Rangers do up front. All three clubs certainly have more than two settled lines, which is all the Rangers have at the moment. Given the way the Islanders fourth line outworked the Rangers on Tuesday, are the Rangers losing games because they haven’t got the depth they require?

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Midseason grades: Goaltending and coaching

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It’s not exactly the midpoint of the season, but now is as good a time as any to begin our midseason grades. It also helps that I had writer’s block and no idea what else to write about, so this won. I’ll be covering the goalies and coaching this year, and I’ll be grading the coaching staff at the group level. I won’t be breaking it down into each assistant coach.

Henrik Lundqvist: 20-9-3, 2.31 GAA, .917 SV%, 5 SO

Hank had another very slow start to the year, allowing three or more goals in 11 of the first 20 games of the season. His numbers remained respectable due to four shutouts in that span, but it was the second season in a row where people wondered if Hank was starting to decline. Of course Hank turned it on in the next 12 games, allowing three or more in just two games.

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An early look at Rangers line deployment

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AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

Although the New York Rangers’ lines are in a state of flux due to injuries, we have seen enough games thus far to get a fair barometer on how Alain Vigneault will deploy his lines throughout the season. Earlier this month, prior to the start of the season, I took a guess at how AV would deploy his lines. The only thing that we knew for sure at that point was that the fourth line would get buried with defensive zone starts. That part at least remains true.

Before we get into it, we should note that J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast, Chris Mueller, and Ryan Malone haven’t really played enough for the zone start percentages to be a true barometer of where AV has been starting them. However, the latter three have spent most of their time on the fourth line, with Miller getting most of his time on the third line (one game on the fourth line). The numbers for these players may be skewed a bit.

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Alain Vigneault has been a great developer of talent in NY

Alain Vigneault has been a great developer of talent in NY

Sometimes opportunity is about timing. Anthony Duclair, JT Miller and Kevin Hayes have made the Rangers at the right time because in Alain Vigneault they have the right coach to develop them into full time – and hopefully long term – Rangers.

Vigneault won over a lot of the fan base last year by staying patient amid early troubles, by being the Anti-Torts in allowing players to develop chemistry together and also by being able to acknowledge ‘hot hands’ and give players a platform to perform when their form deserved extra playing time (example: Cam Talbot taking over midseason for a short period).

There’s every chance Anthony Duclair goes back to junior this year and if he does, it will have been the right decision. If he sticks, he’ll have earned it. The Rangers Head Coach has earned everyone’s trust and whatever he decides will likely be the best course of action. Alain Vigneault has proven he’s confident in his younger players if they earn his trust and the even ice time distribution in the St Louis game (every forward had at least 11 minutes ice time) suggests Vigneault will continue to work the kids in to meaningful positions and give them a chance of growth.

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In a bit of old news (sorry for being late on this one), the Rangers have hired ex-Vancouver Assistant Coach Daryl Williams to join Alain Vigenault’s coaching staff. Williams will replace the now departed Dan Lacroix, and will likely be AV’s “eye in the sky.”

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The Montreal Canadiens have hired Rangers Assistant Coach Dan Lacroix to their coaching staff. Lacroix joined the Rangers last summer, watching games from the press box to give coach Alain Vigneault the “eye in the sky” view.

Lacroix’s depature leaves Scott Arniel, Ulf Samuelsson, and Benoit Allaire as the coaching staff under AV.

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It appears that Rangers assistant coaches are in high demand. Just hours after the Hurricanes asked to speak to Ulf Samuelsson about their head coaching vacancy, John Shannon reported that the Canucks asked to speak to Scott Arniel. Shannon also noted that the Penguins asked to speak to Samuelsson.

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