Much has been made of Alain Vigneault’s lineups during a up and down season. With the Rangers in a slump having dropped three in a row in bad fashion, he’s now desperate enough to turn to Peter Holland.
Acquired from Montreal for Adam Cracknell, Holland is on his fifth organization. A former Anaheim first round pick in 2009, the 27-year old center was recalled from Hartford. In 16 games, he totaled five goals and nine assists. With him up, Boo Nieves was sent down. Nieves has a goal and eight assists in 29 games for the Blueshirts. He was used primarily as the fourth line center playing mostly with Paul Carey and whoever Vigneault stuck with them.
You never know what he’s thinking. Conventional wisdom went out a long time ago. In 44 games which feels like double due to all of his different line combinations and D pairs, we’ve seen everything. Pavel Buchnevich has gone from top line status to the fourth and third line. Jesper Fast went from secondary player to the first line. I can’t follow what Vigneault does anymore. Confusing isn’t even the word.
Make no mistake. This isn’t all on the coach. The players deserve plenty of blame along with the general manager. With a couple of notable exceptions including Fast, Michael Grabner, Marc Staal and both Henrik Lundqvist and Ondrej Pavelec, most of the roster has underperformed. So, it’s left a desperate coach with no choice.
When they host old nemesis Philadelphia tonight, they’ll do so minus Kevin Hayes and probably Ryan McDonagh, who each could will miss their second straight game with injuries. At 22-17-5 with 49 points, they find themselves one point behind the Islanders for the second wildcard. Having not won in regulation since Dec. 19 against Anaheim, they have to get out of this with a more consistent effort. If not, heads will roll and the Rangers will become sellers at the February 26 trade deadline.
All one has to do is listen to Lundqvist after each loss in the Rangers locker room. He’s running out of explanations. They all say the right thing but actions speak louder than words. Let their play do the talking.
What should be expected from a team that can’t put together a full 60 minutes and continues to allow 37 shots leaving most of the work on the goalies? They’re facing a team that’s scoring. Sean Couturier now is a breakout star with 25 goals and 45 points while linemates Claude Giroux (14-40-54) and Jake Voracek (8-45-53) have been rejuvenated. They’ll also have to account for defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. His 32 points (9-23-32) are among the league leaders for D. He is expected to return and pair up with good second-year Russian Ivan Provorov. That gives the Flyers a unique tandem. Something the Rangers lack. Don’t forget pest Wayne Simmonds, who usually scores against us in front.
Here are the Rangers lines. Subject to change at any moment.
So, J.T. Miller moves to center to fill the Hayes void. Maybe it’ll get him going. He’s been invisible lately. Interesting that Vinni Lettieri gets to play with Miller and Mats Zuccarello. Lettieri has a goal and two assists since his recall and has hit at least three goalposts. He could easily have more points. Buchnevich is back with Zibanejad while stone hands Rick Nash gets first dibs. Remember when Nash was brought in as a 40-goal man? I miss those days.
This insistence on using David Desharnais as a third line center is insane. They have no choice. I don’t like Jimmy Vesey on the third unit either. God forbid they reward him and give the kid a look with Zibanejad and Buchnevich. He won’t play enough. Carey has done what’s been asked. But that’s a weak third line. How is our leading goalscorer on the fourth line? Grabner has 19 goals and should be higher. I don’t get it. Holland gets two good players who never take shifts off in Grabner and Fast. Lucky him. But for how long?
It indicates that McDonagh was on the ice. With back spasms, you never know. He’s a game time decision. If he plays, scratch Steven Kampfer. Brendan Smith has to play and they’re not benching Kevin Shattenkirk. At some point, he’ll snap out of it. I’m most curious to see how he performs along with Brady Skjei. They were good earlier this season but have struggled mightily since being reunited. Are they together or apart? I have no idea.
That’s it in a nutshell. The Flyers are hot winning four straight. They’re scoring on the power play and playing well. They’re one point behind the Rangers with 48 having played one less game. Like every other Metro team, it’s right there for them.
How will the Rangers respond to getting outscored 12-4 over the weekend? If they don’t, MSG could get very ugly. I’m sure the “Fire AV” chants are getting warmed up. We’ll see.