Faced with the first crisis in his coaching tenure, Alain Vigneault has made changes to the Rangers lineup for tonight’s game against Nashville. Obviously disappointed with how the team is performing, he is hoping Hartford recall Arron Asham and a healthy Derek Dorsett can provide a spark. With J.T. Miller sent back down, he’s also reinserting veteran center Dominic Moore.
“I’m shifting things because we’re .500, so I think at .500 I’ve got some latitude here,” Vigneault told a group of reporters this afternoon following a team skate. “Playing two players that bring a more physical bite to our team, maybe that will make some other players compete at a higher level.”
At least he’s not standing pat. What’s really going on here is Vigneault’s realized he doesn’t have a lot to work with. Glen Sather has done a terrible job the last two off seasons. When he traded Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov as part of the Rick Nash deal, the Rangers’ depth took a hit. Combined with the departure of Brandon Prust, Ruslan Fedotenko and John Mitchell, it severely hurt the roster John Tortorella coached during last shortened season. A point I kept hammering home was that you don’t break up a team that reached the Conference Final. In doing so, Sather took a huge risk. It’s resulted in a lost identity that could become a losing culture if this keeps up.
It’s no secret that the Rangers don’t compete like they used to. Even Ryan Callahan hasn’t performed up to expectations. He doesn’t finish off guys the same. Aside from inconsistent scoring, the Rangers captain isn’t as noticeable. That can’t happen under any circumstance. Neither can Carl Hagelin continue to slump. When he returned, he was their best player. Notice that he hasn’t produced since Nash came back. Vigneault was using him as a top six forward. Forced to play third line minutes, he isn’t having any success. Hagelin was never a big scorer to begin with. Perhaps increased expectations hurt. He’s more effective when he’s surrounded with better talent. Vigneault might want to consider moving him back on a line with Brad Richards and Nash.
With Chris Kreider now a top six forward, he’s not going anywhere. After initial success with Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello, he’s playing with Nash and Richards. That’s left Vigneault to keep Zuccarello and Stepan together. If he could figure it out with Derick Brassard, scoring might not be as big an issue. A big difference between how Tortorella used him and how Vigneault does is the former coach played him at center more. When he came over as part of the Marian Gaborik trade, he was consistent. That hasn’t been the case this season. If Vigneault went with a 1-3 of Richards, Stepan and Brassard, it would create better balance. He seems more concerned with having Moore and Brian Boyle center different lines. Odd considering that he teaches offense. You can’t have two similar checking types on your third and fourth line.
I get the need for the Blueshirts to play a more grinding style. Without Dorsett, they’re vanilla. His energy rubs off. Hopefully, that will help. As for Asham, he makes his season debut after spending the first two months in Hartford. It had to be tough for a seasoned vet who’s played for all three locals along with the Flyers and Pens. He’ll have something to prove. As long as he doesn’t take an ill advised penalty, I can live with him. By playing Asham, Vigneault is sitting Benoit Pouliot and Taylor Pyatt. That’s the way it should be. Move guys in and out until you get results.
At 15-15-1, there’s plenty of time for the Rangers to turn it around. Three points behind second place Washington and tied for third with Carolina, they can’t continue to waste chances at home. The Devils are a point back and have won all three meetings with two left. The Flyers also are playing better hockey and are fifth with 29 points. Just two behind. Either they shape up or this season becomes a write off. That would mean much bigger changes. Not exactly what was expected. Henrik Lundqvist makes his fourth consecutive start. He’ll be opposed by Carter Hutton. There’s no reason they shouldn’t come out with two points.