The Rangers got it right with Peter Laviolette

If you could sum up Chris Drury’s deadline acquisitions in one word, it would be experience. Collectively Jack Roslovic, Alex Wennberg, and Chad Ruhwedel have about 90 postseason games under their belt. The men they will likely be rotating with (Brodzinski, Jones, Edstrom, & Rempe) have a grand total of one.

So for the first time in his tenure, Peter Laviolette will finally have some seasoned depth at his disposal rather than a collection of rookies and AHLers. Not to take anything away from the aforementioned players. They have all served their roles well. However, the goal this year isn’t to plug holes or hand out minutes for developmental purposes. It’s to win a Cup.

To do so, Laviolette will need at least some of his depth players to play the role of playoff hero on the journey to 16 wins. To make that happen, simply having depth isn’t enough. You have to make the puzzle pieces collectively fit together. That may mean shuffling some Rangers responsibilities for in-game roles and matchups.

1. Solve the first line’s 5-on-5 woes

Everyone knows the Rangers have their issues at 5-on-5. Two years of mediocrity under Gallant has followed through into Peter Laviolette’s tenure. Between two drastically different systems with Gallant’s 1-2-2 & Laviolette’s 2-1-2 (or 1-3-1 with a lead), it’s safe to say it isn’t tactics holding this team back.

The reality is, Chris Kreider & Mika Zibanejad generate very little off the forecheck. While they can be very lethal off the rush, they’ve been very hit and miss this year outside of the PP. That could be an anchor in the playoffs.

Kaapo Kakko is an excellent forechecker, and on paper (as Dave has noted) helps Kreider & Zibanejad drive puck possession. However, they don’t score. The possession improvement is on the defensive side, not offensive. So, the possession they generate doesn’t amount to much. It’s an improvement, but that won’t cut it either.

Jack Roslovic is a speedy winger who certainly looked good in his debut. He isn’t known to be a great forechecker, but his ability to produce off the rush should theoretically help Mika & Kreider get back to being feared rush players.

2. Swap Mika for Wennberg on the top PK unit

There is no doubt Mika has been the Rangers best two-way center over the past several seasons. With that said, I’m not 100% confident that Mika can get to where he needs to be at 5-on-5 with so much defensive responsibility.

Alex Wennberg has also been one of the top forwards in the league at PK time. Whether it’s been in Columbus, Florida, or Seattle, every coach he’s played for has given him a prominent role in that situation. There is a reason for that. I’d move Mika off the PK or at least lessen his time there and give the lion-share of PK work to Wennberg.

3. Move Goodrow to the wing

Barclay Goodrow gets destroyed on a daily basis on the internet. I agree that he has underperformed this season. However, you also have to look at his metrics within the context of who he is and his role. Most defensive forwards usually get around 35-40% offensive zone starts. Goodrow comes in at half that (20%). He is 2nd to last in the league among forwards at getting opportunities in the offensive zone and is dead last among centers (according to Hockey Reference).

Goodrow’s peer group –for defensive zone starts & comparable systems– are guys like Beck Malenstyn, Cal Clutterbuck, and JG Pageau. Laviolette is also known for deploying players in difficult roles. Throughout his career he has used Blair Betts, Darroll Powe, Ruslan Fedotenko, Nick Bonino, Austin Watson, Colton Sissons, the list goes on, almost exclusively in defensive situations. The one thing all of these players have in common – their underlying metrics are brutal.

With all that said, Jimmy Vesey’s offensive opportunities haven’t been plentiful, and he’s certainly made the most of them. So for me, to optimize this situation, I’d put Jonny Brodzinsky at 4C, keep Vesey at 4L and move Goodrow to 4R, at least initialy. Rempe should continue to get looks in the right matchup. However, relying on him to be a shutdown forward in the playoffs is likely more than he can handle at this stage of his career.

* Worth adding. Of course, Jonny hasn’t been used in a shutdown role yet either based on his usage this season, so we don’t know if he can handle those responsibilities either. Test and learn folks.

4. Test Ruhwedel with Miller temporarily 

Ruhwedel is a stay-at-home type¬†who defends hard, has decent mobility, and can dig pucks out of the corner. He’s not going to lead breakouts or thread 50 foot passes, but he will manage the puck well and keep it simple.

The Rangers really don’t have a pure defensive defenseman other than Ryan Lindren, and at times that has led to breakdowns in the defensive zone. The most likely scenario is Ruhwedel will line up opposite Erik Gustafsson while Jacob Trouba is out, since he’s really meant to play the right side on the bottom pairing.

However, K’Andre Miller has run incredibly hot and cold this season, while Schneider seems to be improving week in and week out. I’d try Miller with Ruhwedel against weaker competition for a few games and see if that gives K’Andre more opportunities to get on the scoreboard and build his confidence heading into the postseason.

The Final Stretch

With 19 games left to play, I imagine Laviolette will be tinkering with the lineup to try to find the right combinations that are going to carry the Rangers through the playoffs. I think the bottom 6 specifically is going to see a lot of iterations, as that has been somewhat of a weakness over the first 60 games, mostly due to injuries.

And while getting things sorted in the bottom six will help, ultimately success or failure in the playoffs is going to come down to the star players and their ability to find another gear. Hopefully, these moves allow Laviolette to get the most out of this roster come Spring.

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