There was a lot of optimism surrounding the New York Rangers organization when it was announced that Alain Vigneault was taking over for John Tortorella. But five games into the season, the optimism has started to fade and fans and pundits are dumbfounded over the Blueshirts' horrific start.
Although neither party has been good thus far during the team's 1-4-0 start, the onus is on the players themselves. Management has also played a role in the team's down play to date, but let's save that for later.
The Rangers asked for a coaching change, and they got their wish.
During a preseason interview with James Duthie of TSN, Tortorella talked about losing his job.
I thought my players and I had a really honest relationship, I know we did, but no one came to me and said, "you know what. You are kicking the hell out of us, you gotta back off." That kind of caught me back. I don’t know exactly what happened. I know that my general manager told me that I lost the team and you are out of here.
It is easier for an organization to fire a coach when a team is not performing, but once that happens, the fault lies solely on the shoulders of the players.
So far, the Rangers have been losing games because of failure to play as a team and failure to make the most of their opportunities. The coaching change is not a valid excuse, because Vigneault took over a similar team in 2006 when he joined the Vancouver Canucks.
Back in 2006, the Canucks were a defensive-minded team, and they didn't have any superstars. The team's identity was rooted in defense and goaltending, and over time, the offense improved.
For that reason, there is no reason for the Rangers lack of production thus far. The best way to explain the Rangers' poor play is by using numbers.
- 5.00—goals-allowed per-game, most in the NHL
- 1.80—goals-scored per-game, third-worst in NHL
- 35.8—shots-allowed per-game, third-most in the NHL
- 27.0—shots-taken per-game, fifth-least in the NHL
- 135—total shots taken, fifth-least in the NHL
- 179—total shots allowed, 11th-most in the NHL
Simply put, the Rangers' lack of execution has been killing them. They are not scoring goals, they are giving up too many goals, they are not getting enough shots off and they are surrendering too many shots per game.
The best way to score goals is to put shots on net, and the Rangers will not generate offense by taking only 27 shots a game.
They are also doing themselves no favors by missing the net when they are handed prime scoring chances. The Rangers have a total of 61 missed shots so far, and that equates to 12.1 missed shots per game.
While the team has been impacted by injuries, there are no excuses for having only two players with double-digit shot totals thus far. Currently Brad Richards has 22 shots, and Brian Boyle is second with 16 shots.
Players like Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Michael Del Zotto need to shoot the puck more. Rick Nash and Richards can't carry the team by themselves.
When it comes to playing defense, the Blueshirts also are failing to execute. Through five games, the Rangers have been pretty bad as a whole, and that has led to them being outscored by a margin of 25 to nine. Part of the reason for the lopsided margin is breakdowns in coverage.
In the above video, two Rangers collided, and it forced Henrik Lundqvist to take matters into his own hands. Once Lundqvist left the crease, his net was left exposed, and he was given no support by his defense.
There were a number of calamities on this one play that led to a goal being scored, but is goes back to the concept that the Rangers are simply not executing. It is even more surprising, because the Rangers defense was one of their biggest strength's last season.
In 2012-13, the Blueshirts allowed 28.2 shots per game, and that was a big reason why they surrendered only 2.25 goals per game. As noted above, that number has ballooned thus far, because the team is surrendering more shots.
When looking at the Rangers' poor start, it may seem easy to blame the struggles on a new coach, but the team is still playing John Tortorella hockey.
According to NHL.com, the Rangers rank 10th overall with a total of 82 blocked shots. That equates to 16.2 shots per game, just higher than the 16.1 shots they blocked last season. They are also playing physical hockey, as they are 13th in the league with 122 hits through five games.
But why is this the case?
Part of the problem for the Rangers' failure thus far involves personnel. The players get no reprieve for lack of execution, but Vigneault gets a pass for doing the best he can with the current roster.
The current identity of this team, based on statistics, is still Tortorellian in nature. Players are still blocking shots, they are hitting and they aren't generating offense. Could it be that this team isn't good enough to play for Vigneault?
Was there a reason why the team played the way it did last season? Maybe Tortorella wasn't restricting offense; maybe the team just didn't have the talent to score. That seems to be the case based on how the Canucks have played under Tortorella to date.
So far, the Canucks are 14th in goals per game with 2.83. The Sedin twins have not been impacted, and as a whole, the team has played okay.
Obviously the sample size is small, but it is looking like Tortorella was doing the best he could with his roster, and that is where Glen Sather comes into play.
He decided to hire Vigneault this summer, but he didn't bring in players that can play his style of hockey. Instead, Sather focused on adding depth players like Justin Falk, Aaron Johnson, Benoit Pouliot and Dominic Moore.
Given the fact that a majority of the Rangers roster is headed to free agency this July, it would have been logical to tailor the roster in Vigneault's image. Rick Nash is currently injured, and the team is back to facing a familiar problem.
Although the Rangers roster has failed to execute, management has failed in general. Vigneault is signed for the next five years, and it would make sense to give him the necessary talent sooner rather than later.