Vigneault comes to senses, changes lines

Following last night’s disappointment in Brooklyn, Alain Vigneault came to his senses by changing the lines. With a visit to the Flyers for a 1 PM Saturday matinee, it looks like he’ll go more conventionally. Here’s what the projected lines look like based on this morning’s practice:

The first noticeable thing is Jayson Megna is rotating with Viktor Stalberg on the fourth line. After getting a extended look on the top line with Derek Stepan and Rick Nash/J.T. Miller, Megna went without a point the last three games. He had that great start with a goal and assist in a win over Dallas. Clearly, he isn’t cut out for a top six role let alone a top nine. With Stalberg going well, the fourth line should remain intact with Megna coming out of the lineup.

What that also means is after two games off, Oscar Lindberg returns tomorrow in Philadelphia. He’s back on the third line with Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast. At this point, that’s what it should be. Lindberg has 11 goals which ranks fourth on the team. It never made sense for him to come out. But that’s how bad a job Vigneault has done with the lineup this season.

It also means Chris Kreider returns to the top line where he’ll reunite with Stepan and Rick Nash. At this point, it’s either sink or swim for the disappointing third-year forward. In 41 games, he has six goals and 13 assists. There’s no if’s and’s or buts about it. He must be better in the second half. The livelihood of the team depends on it. Ditto for Nash, who despite getting his usual looks didn’t bury any against Jaroslav Halak. He has 12 goals with two empty net and one that didn’t even go in. That means Nash has only beaten goalies nine times. That is unacceptable. Even with time missed, Stepan has eight and he hasn’t been consistent either. No one has.

Vigneault decided to shift Miller back to the second line with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello. They looked good when together recently until he had Nash back with them yesterday. Why not keep Miller there and see if he rubs off on them? Brassard is either really good or invisible like Thursday night. He is on pace for over 20 goals with his 15 trailing linemate Zuccarello by one. Speaking of which, he hasn’t been consistent either. After putting up nine points (5-4-9) in December over 13 games, he has only one assist in five contests so far in the new calendar year. The primary helper on Brassard’s tally against Boston. They need the old Zucc back.

Also, the D pairings remain the same. It looks like for now, Kevin Klein will stay with Ryan McDonagh on the top pair which is perfect. He’s been much steadier than Dan Girardi, who was rotating with Dylan McIlrath on the third pair with Keith Yandle. That leaves Marc Staal with Dan Boyle, whose game has slipped after a hot December. So much of it has to do with the power play. It’s 0-for-18 over the past seven games. The last power play goal came in a 3-2 overtime home win over Anaheim on 12/22. Zuccarello tallied on a 4-on-3. Boyle had the last PPG on a 5-on-4 in a blowout loss to Washington 12/20. That has to change. If that means moving Yandle up to the top unit, then do it already. Get the most out of your best offensive defenseman. That would require more ice-time from a stubborn coach who prefers McDonagh and Boyle on the first PP.

The bigger question is does McIlrath sit for Girardi. I’d like to think McIlrath would get another game. Outside of that undisciplined roughing minor that led to Nick Leddy’s game-winner, he was good again despite sitting six consecutive games. There’s clearly a place in the lineup for McIlrath’s combination of size and strength. He also is responsible in front of his net. Why not give him another one and rest Girardi for Washington on Sunday? When it comes to the coach, it’s ultimately his decision whether I agree with it or not. We’ll see.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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