Alain Vigneault’s first two seasons as the Head Coach of the New York Rangers went better than anyone could have expected. Vigneault led New York to a Stanley Cup berth and then a Presidents Trophy victory, with young talent such as Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan developing along the way.
While the Rangers hold an impressive 16-6-2 record through 24 games this season, the quick start has been considered unsustainable by many due to the Rangers poor possession numbers. In reality, it is tough to complain about a team that has started 16-6-2, but he has not put the Rangers in position to succeed this season, as he has in years past. Through his misguided delegation of defensemen, poor matchup management, and personnel decisions, Vigneault has disappointed this season.
The main issue with Vigneault this season has been how he has used the defensemen at his disposal. Keith Yandle was the big ticket acquisition at the trade deadline last season, but as we wrote earlier, he has not been utilized in a way reflecting that. Combine Yandle’s lack of time with the fact that Dan Boyle has been a healthy scratch numerous times this season, and New York is already shooting themselves in the foot.
Vigneault has unfortunately convinced himself that Dan Girardi is a top pair defenseman, using him on the right side of Ryan McDonagh. Considering Girardi has the highest time on ice and one of the worst raw Corsi For percentages for players in the NHL, this has become more than a minor problem.
McDonagh, the Rangers’ best defenseman and arguably best player outside of Henrik Lundqvist, has seen his game drop drastically with Girardi on the ice. Martin R. Burns compiled a useful group of statistics that display how Girardi drags down McDonagh.
McDonagh-Girardi have played 227:20 together in 15/16. 41.7 CF60, 64.9 CA60, 39.1 CF% McD in 147:46 apart: 58.4 CF60, 54.4 CA60, 51.8 CF%
— Martin R. Burns (@mburnshockey) November 29, 2015
If you prefer visuals, Dominic Galamini displayed the same issue on his own:
Looking at NYR WOWYs – It's such a shame to see McDonagh's prime years thwarted by an ill-suited d-partner… pic.twitter.com/KThzJtq9RR
— Domenic Galamini (@MimicoHero) November 30, 2015
The Rangers have Kevin Klein (injured Monday night), having the fifth highest dCorsi impact (57.1) among NHL defenseman, play second to third pair minutes. Meanwhile, the player that is among the worst in the NHL in possession plays on the top pair. That is a major problem, as is Vigneault’s tendency to turn to Girardi and Marc Staal in important game situations, such as in Boston. If Vigneault wants the Rangers to start winning close games again, he will need to pick the right defensemen to play in the big spots and carry the heavy workloads.
Another issue Alain Vigneault has struggled with this season is personnel management. Emerson Etem, a talented young forward with a bright future, has been a consistent healthy scratch, with Jarret Stoll, seemingly good for only winning faceoffs, continuing to receive playing time.
Stoll, who ranks last on the Rangers in Corsi For percentage (41.5) played more time last Saturday than Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider, Rick Nash, and Mats Zuccarello, among others. It comes as no surprise the Rangers were shutout considering they played their “defensive fourth line” over their skill players when in need of scoring. Vigneault mismanged the game situation, and the Rangers paid for it.
It appears as if the Rangers have benefited from lucky bounces and other-worldly goaltending this season, and while we do not feel the Rangers are due for major regression, we do believe if Alain Vigneault does not come to understand who his talented players are and who is weak links are, the Rangers are in for a long season.