Over the course of the past few weeks, coach Alain Vigneault has come under significant criticism. This is certainly warranted, as he has leaned on his veterans in the playoffs –like most coaches– to deliver late. The problem is that we are now at three games where these veterans have coughed up a late lead. All three times, the Rangers wound up losing in overtime.
While the players on the ice seem to change when the tying goal is scored, the one constant is that Brady Skjei rarely sees ice time in these situations. On Saturday, he was benched for the final five minutes. The Senators tied it late and won in overtime. The same thing happened in Game 2. Same result. He saw just one shift in Game 2 against Montreal. Same result.
The forwards on the ice varied. As did the defensemen. However the one constant is that Skjei, who has been arguably the best defenseman in the playoffs for the Rangers, remains stapled to the bench. For better or worse, AV will lean on his veterans to get him through to the next round. His quotes are pretty clear too:
“These guys have seen it before, and in the past, a lot of times they have responded real well,” Vigneault said when asked specifically about Girardi and Staal. “I put a lot of faith and trust in how they’re going to play in those pressure situations. That’s it. Got a lot of faith in these guys’ abilities to get it done.”
That’s a pretty depressing quote. It shows an alarming refusal to adapt to the present and living in the past. It shows a clear hesitance to play Skjei, who has had an outstanding rookie season and a solid playoffs. Even worse, is that AV seems to contradict himself in later quotes:
“Experience is good, but it’s only good if you’re playing well,” Vigneault said. “For whatever reason, we had quite a few that had an average [Game 5]. It was not an appropriate time. There’s nothing we can do about it.
So AV seems set on leaning on his veterans, even if they aren’t playing well. Skjei, who is not a veteran but is playing well, is caught in the middle. Staal, as noted by Ryan Lambert, was on the ice for HALF of the Senators’ high-danger chances on Saturday. HALF!
Another point worth noting Staal and Dan Girardi have been on the ice for 13 of the 15 goals against in this series. Let that one sink in for a moment.
There is no promise that subbing Skjei in for Staal or Girardi –or both– will move the needle in the right direction. For all we know, Skjei could be just as bad as the other guys in these situations. The thing is, we don’t know. But if what worked in the past is now failing, there is a need to adjust.
The definition of insanity is repeating the same actions while expecting different results. AV is repeating the same deployment and hoping his results –blowing leads– changes. That’s not going to cut it. It’s time to put Skjei on the ice in these situations. What do you have to lose?