Vigneault desperate for answers mixes lines again


At the morning practice, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault once again mixed his lines as if they were out of a hat. Only six games in, his team has struggled to find chemistry scoring just 13 goals while losing five of its first six.

With key players unable to get going, a desperate man is seeking answers. How to explain his many lineups already and changes? Manic. He’s clearly feeling the pressure while looking for the right combination that can put together a 60-minute effort. It’s a must with the two-time defending champion Penguins visiting MSG for tomorrow’s match at 7 PM.

To say they need a win is a understatement. From the coaches to the players, two points is badly needed for their psyche which can’t be too good. Inconsistency has been the theme so far. Until that changes, they’ll be hard pressed to go on a hot streak.

We’ve already seen Kevin Shattenkirk on all three pairs while still getting lots of power play time on the top unit. If only it were as simple as winning games on special teams. After a good start, the power play has cooled off going 1 for its last 14.

Over the past four seasons, Vigneault put a emphasis on puck possession and winning the battle five on five. Preaching quick transition and solid forechecking, the veteran bench boss had plenty of success guiding the franchise to four consecutive postseasons including a Stanley Cup appearance and within a period of another. They’ve since lost in the first round and in the second round.

There’s no doubting Vigneault’s resume. He’s been a good coach for over a decade also having similar success with Vancouver where they fell a game short of winning the franchise’s first Cup. Ultimately, a talented team featuring the Sedins, Ryan Kesler, Roberto Luongo, Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler, Christian Ehrhoff, Sami Salo, Mikael Samuelsson, Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen and Mason Raymond fell shy of their goal. They won a President’s Trophy the following year and were upset by eventual champ Los Angeles in the first round. Another first round ouster to San Jose ended his run with the Canucks.

Are the Rangers heading down the same path? Since that gut wrenching Stanley Cup loss to the Kings, they’ve had some tough disappointments including losing a home Game 7 for the first time in MSG history to the Lightning. Followed by early exits, it resulted in changes with former playoff hero Derick Brassard traded to Ottawa and Derek Stepan sent to Arizona.

That’s created a hole at center with Mika Zibanejad fulfilling the number one center slot so far leading the team with five goals. However, Kevin Hayes has been up and down while Vigneault has moved J.T. Miller and David Desharnais around. He has yet to figure out if Miller would be better suited as a center. Considering the team’s lack of depth, there isn’t much choice. Desharnais should center the fourth line. Instead, he was centering the second line in the latest bizarre twist.

Mika Zibanejad gets new linemates in Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello. I have no problem with that. Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich was getting stale. Neither Kreider or Buchnevich have a goal. I just have no idea why Buchnevich is down to the fourth line with Paul Carey and Michael Grabner. Holy mackerel.

The third line of Kevin Hayes, Jimmy Vesey and Jesper Fast has potential. Vesey worked well with Hayes in preseason and is overdue. Fast is that strong hard working two-way presence. The idea that Desharnais is centering Kreider and Miller is absurd. Desharnais isn’t a top six forward. This is what Vigneault is going with against the Pens.

Then there’s the confusing defense pairings. Shattenkirk is on the third pair with Marc Staal. Why? He’s getting the Keith Yandle treatment. So much for giving ShattDeuces another look with Ryan McDonagh. All it took was four periods. McDonagh is now with Tony DeAngelo. A liability in his end. Brady Skjei remains with familiar partner Brendan Smith. The only tandem that makes sense.

So, this is how nuts Vigneault is. Only entering Game 7 of 82 and he’s pulling names from a hat. He already has used seven D and 11 forwards twice. It’s mystifying.

The unpredictable nature of his lines have Rangers Twitter in a conundrum. Nobody understands what’s going on. If things don’t change starting tomorrow with the Islanders Thursday and Predators Saturday at MSG, it might not matter anymore for Vigneault. Some fans don’t care.

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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