After a brutal start to the season, the Rangers are only three points out of first place. What changed to get the team back on track?
For the better part of the last six weeks, nothing has been going well for the team in Rangerstown. Sloppy play, poor starts to games, turnover after turnover have destroyed any hope to a fast start the Rangers anticipated.
Now, the Rangers have won five out of the last six games. That’s good for 10 out of a possible 12 points. What has caused the team to play better over the last two weeks? Plenty has happened, but it’s not anything that you can put your finger on. Let’s take a look what has caused the Rangers turn around.
The Power Play
What could be considered the biggest failure over the past few seasons has been the bright point of this season. I am writing about the power play of course. Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Shattenkirk have brought a threat to the opposing team when on the power play and even when the team doesn’t convert on the power play, it brings plenty of scoring opportunities and momentum to the team. The man advantage is ranked 10th in the NHL and continues to look better every game.
Alain Vigneault has been changing lines for what seems like every period since the season began. He has mixed up combinations in an attempt to find the “chemistry” to have a balanced four-line set up. Early in the season Filip Chytil and Anthony DeAngelo were on the team as the Rangers tried to add youth and speed to the team. Three games into the season Chytil was sent down to the minors in an attempt to help his adjustment to the North American style of hockey. A few games later DeAngelo was also sent down to the minors.
Alain Vigneault finally found a lineup that began to show some heart and soul about two weeks ago led by the line of Chris Kreider–Mika Zibanejad–Pavel Buchnevich. The head coach was able to construct line combinations that were reliable defensively and could put the puck in the net. Prior to this chemistry, Vigneault was running out of time as rumors of his probable firing were written about all over social media.
The newly formed defensive unit was the biggest problem the organization had early in the year. Poor turnovers and bad decision hammered the defense. Vigneault was changing pairs every game as he searched for the right combination to play every night. The biggest surprise is the play of Marc Staal, who started as the third pair of defensemen with Anthony DeAngelo and now has played with just about every defensemen on the team. Vigneault seems to trust him as much as any player on the ice. Another interesting scenario is the lack of playing time Brendan Smith has received. The coach has not been happy with Smith’s play and it has now gotten to the point where Smith has been sitting out with Nick Holden and Steven Kampfer taking his place in the lineup. This may seem unusual, with Smiths skill and talent, but it has been working for the Rangers in recent games.
Henrik Lundqvist has been carrying the load with Ondrej Pavelec seeing very limited ice time, to no one’s surprise. Henrik started the season very slowly, as the whole team did, but recently has turned his game around. Currently, on a personal three-game winning streak, the King is once again leading the way.
The Coaching Staff
Alain Vigneault and his coaches have been earning their money this season. Contrary to fan perception and social media Vigneault has been strong in the way he wants his team run. The constant line changes and players being sat have been done with purpose. He is the one who has to live or die with every team decision made and he has done this with confidence. He is the leader of this team and knows what he needs to do to keep the Rangers moving up in the standing.
Some of Vigneault’s decisions seem unrealistic, but it’s his way. The coach seems to know how to push players buttons whether it’s sitting a player down or calling players out during media sessions. It’s this decisiveness that has given the team opportunity to win games again.
The Rangers turn around has only been going on for the last ten days or so, but it shows that this team can perform at a high level consistently. There is a lot of hockey left to be played, but the team has bought into Vigneault’s way of playing. He has been coaching for several years, so he has an idea of what to do when times get tough.
The change the Rangers have gone through is more than just the coach. The players are the ones who play the game. The coach and player are what makes this game work. One is no more important than the other. Let’s enjoy the ride while it lasts and hopes it continues to get better as the season progresses towards the playoffs.