COACHING: A-. You’re only as strong as your weakest link.
This NY Rangers are a well-coached hockey club. This season marks the third straight during which Alain Vigneault, Ulf Samuelson and Scott Arniel will be the bench trio behind the blue sweaters. They share a common vision and philosophy and this season, they deserve credit for getting the team ready, for professionally handling the tasks of paring down the roster without leaving much ambiguity out there and for putting a very good hockey club together.
I’ve mentioned this before, but about a week prior to Opening Night, a lot of teams still had 30+ players left in their respective camps and AV had the Rangers roster down to 25. That’s an effective way to “steal time” away from the weeding-out process and to give it over to the practice squads. That’s an early advantage that enabled the team work toward getting out to a stronger start.
It would be failing not to mention Benny Allaire again here. Allaire (brother of “the goalie whisperer,” Francoise Allaire) has been with the Rangers since 2004 and has been Lundqvist’s goalie coach for the entire span of the goalie’s NHL career. He spends a lot of time traveling to work with the organization’s prospects at all levels and is widely considered to be one of the best in the game. His request to Vigneault to keep Lundqvist out of preseason game situations during the first week of camp this season appears to have been a successful measure in helping both Lundqvist and Raanta: the former was able to work on his focus and decision-making and the latter was able to log game situation minutes to get acclimated to the Rangers’ pace and style of play. All he does is get better at what he does, year in, year out and this year is no exception. Arizona tried to snipe him, but Benny said “no, thanks.”
Three knocks on the coaching staff: 1) The Diaz debacle; 2) sticking with line experiments a little to long, and; 3) continued failure on the power play. Other than those things? I think they’re doing a pretty solid job.
It’s hard to argue with success. The Rangers have started pretty slowly the past few years and have improved on that this year. Last season, it should be noted, the month of November was statistically the team’s worst of the season – it was the only calendar month during which they played to a sub .500 record. They are already ahead of the bow-wave relative to last season. The next challenge is to sustain those gains.
The Rangers next game is at 7:00 PM ET on Friday, Oct 30th versus Mike Babcock’s Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden.