What We Learned: How Alain Vigneault is failing NY Rangers

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

Alain Vigneault has an interesting theory for why the New York Rangers blew another late lead on Saturday.

“Maybe the guys didn’t know their goaltender was coming (out,) but it was less than two minutes and (Ottawa’s) down by a goal,” he told reporters after the Rangers once again conceded an extra-attacker goal and ended up losing in overtime.

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“Should expect it, but maybe they got caught there not knowing the goalie was out.”

Allow me to advance a theory of my own: Regardless of whether his own players could see the 180 or so feet down to the other end of the ice, or correctly count the six Senators skaters furiously trying to put another late puck past Henrik Lundqvist, it was actually Vigneault who put his team in a position to fail.

Again.

Take a look at the damn box score, man. Senators on the ice, in numerical order: Dion Phaneuf, Kyle Turris, Clarke MacArthur, Derick Brassard, Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman. These are the big guns. Guy Boucher puts that group over the boards when he absolutely, positively needs a goal.

Now look who the Rangers had on the ice, in numerical order: Tanner Glass, Marc Staal … actually, let’s just stop it right there. These are absolutely two of the worst players on the Rangers roster, unequivocally.

I’ll put this as simply as I possibly can. Ottawa attempted 60 shots at 5-on-5, in a little more than 66 minutes. Only 10 of those attempts were from “high-danger areas.” In only 16:38 of those minutes, Staal was on the ice for more than a third of those attempts and half of those high-danger chances. It will surprise no one on earth to learn that he was the guy who blew it on the game-tying goal in this one.

As for Glass, he had perhaps the best game you could possibly expect out of a player with his, uhh, skillset. And he still got outscored 2-0 at full strength (including the game-winner with Ottawa’s top players on the ice), to say nothing of being on the ice for the tying goal. Turns out, he’s not the kind of guy you want on the ice in high-leverage situations.

And sure, any coach is going to occasionally find himself in a situation where he has a sub-optimal lineup on the ice. Bad players are, after all, more likely to be on the ice when the goalie is pulled because that’s when the puck tends to get into the defensive zone and stay there.

Anderson was officially only out of the net for eight seconds (watching the tape, it seems only slightly longer than that. Moreover, Staal played 1:24 of the 1:58 before the goal, and that stretch included an icing, so he was out there a long time and the Rangers had few chances to get someone else, someone better, over the boards to spell him.

Meanwhile, Brady Skjei, who’s probably the Rangers’ puck-mover of the future, doesn’t leave the bench for the last five or so minutes of regulation.

But here’s the thing: Vigneault wants his defense-first defenders out there in late-game situations. Demonstrably.

Turn back the clock a week, when the Rangers blew another late lead — that time conceding not one late goal, but two in the space of 2:17 — because he wouldn’t keep Dan Girardi off the ice. In fact, of the final four minutes of the third period in a two-goal road game with the other team clearly pressing, Girardi was on the ice for a whopping 2:30, though some of that was after he’d already been directly accountable in blowing the lead in the first place.

And when the Rangers lost in overtime of Game 2 against the Canadiens, you’ll never guess who was on the ice for the 5-on-6 goal that tied the game with 18 seconds left. It was, obviously, Marc Staal. And he was, obviously, stuck out there for nearly a full minute before Tomas Plekanec scored.

None of this is to say Vigneault’s team played particularly well in Saturday’s Game 5, because they arguably served up their worst game of the playoffs, but you have to say part of that is because Vigneault gave Dan Girardi (41.7 CF% at 5-on-5) more than 23 minutes. And Staal (30.3 CF%) got nearly 20 minutes. And while Glass only played about 12 minutes — and again, drew two penalties by living in Chris Neil’s head — he shouldn’t be in the lineup at all.

The problem, to some extent, is that Vigneault’s hands are tied by how bad the expensive guys on this D-corps are. Staal and Girardi cost a combined $11.2 million against the cap and are the Rangers’ two biggest blue line AAVs. But honestly, that doesn’t require Vigneault to play them as much as he does, and certainly not in these types of important situations. This is a personnel problem because of both the general manager and the coach.

Vigneault makes it a lot worse for himself because he can’t evaluate his defensemen properly, or doesn’t trust guys like Nick Holden or Brendan Smith (who, to be fair, are no great shakes but remain perfectly capable middle-pairing defensemen).

People will say Vigneault is something of a “progressive” coach because his systems are more up-tempo and result in a lot of odd-man rushes on the counterattack. That’s the modern NHL and in a lot of ways the Rangers have players well-suited to make other teams pay on the rush. Look how many forwards they have that can haul ass up the ice and generate scoring chances, above and beyond the obvious skill Michael Grabner brings to the table here.

On the other hand, you have to acknowledge how little the defense helps in this regard once Ryan McDonagh is off the ice. Because, listen, the Rangers have 46 scoring chances at 5-on-5 against the Senators in this series so far. McDonagh has been on the ice for 20 of them (43 percent). Put another way: The Rangers’ scoring-chances-for per 60 drops by about half when Girardi is off the ice in this series, likely because the Rangers just don’t have anyone else who can reliably get the puck up the ice and keep it there.

It’s mystical thinking, flat-out. Vigneault is the kind of person who inexplicably thinks the team plays better when Glass is in the lineup over Pavel Buchnevich, despite all evidence to the contrary. He inexplicably thinks Marc Staal and Dan Girardi lock down the defensive zone despite the number of late goals for which they’ve been on the ice. And moreover, this is a problem that didn’t start in this series or this postseason or even in October 2016.

This isn’t a hard concept: When guys are on the ice for goals against — and Staal and Girardi have been on the ice for 13 of New York’s 15 against in just five games in this series, and literally never at the same time — this frequently, you don’t keep giving them the opportunity to cost you games. That’s 87 percent of the Rangers’ goals against in 76 percent of the minutes.

To be fair, they’re playing tougher competition than most other guys, but there shouldn’t be a 50-plus-percent drop in GA/60 when either or both of them are off the ice (3.91 vs. 1.89).

It’s a long-standing problem. Any Ranger fan can tell you that. These guys don’t inspire their teams to play better and they certainly don’t make any sort of positive difference themselves. Again, Vigneault can only play the players he has on the roster, and if you want to argue he’s trying to mitigate their deficiencies by putting them with his two other reasonably good defenders, that’s an argument worth making.

However, his continued use of these guys when the game is on the line is indefensible, even if there’s not a truly ideal solution available to Vigneault because of the roster. If there’s not a good answer, but you know for sure the answer you keep trying doesn’t work, why keep trying that answer?

It’s the reason his team is down 2-3 in the series rather than up 3-2, or that they haven’t already won it. And how can you trust him to not make these mistakes again in one or two elimination games?

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Lost in the whole “why didn’t anyone pick up Perry” issue from the GWG in Game 5 was this amazing double-pump-fake Perry used to fake Talbot out of the game.

Arizona Coyotes: The odds the Coyotes get another undersized super-skilled forward at No. 7 seem, uhh, low.

Boston Bruins: Do you think maybe the “quick sticks” the Senators brought to the table in that series were mirages stemming from the Bruins’ AHL D corps? No, I agree: Probably not.

Buffalo Sabres: This is going great. Pegula really has this figured out.

Calgary Flames: Oh yeah the arena deal would be a lot better if Calgary just hosted the goddamn Olympics in 2026. Absolutely. Yeah. Everyone knows hosting the Olympics is good.

Carolina Hurricanes: Hahaha. Hahahahaha. Hahahahahahahaha.

Chicago: In much the same way three current Chicago players are in the 100 best players of all time, so too are the three Chicago teams that won Stanley Cups among the 50 best teams in this history of hockey. Pretty crazy coincidence!

Colorado Avalanche: MacKinnon’s trade value has never been higher, folks!

Columbus Blue Jackets: “Must.”

Dallas Stars: There are plenty of candidates where, if the Stars exposed them in the expansion draft, you’d say, “Oh, no big deal.” But isn’t that, like, bad?

Detroit Red Wings: How funny is it that Ken Holland gave the commencement address at (Danny) Cleary University? Man, you can’t even write this stuff.

Edmonton Oilers: Why does Chiarelli get all this credit for turning the Oilers into a decent team? What’s he done, besides trade for Cam Talbot, that a chicken wouldn’t have also done?

Florida Panthers: A hockey horse won the horse race again.

Los Angeles Kings: Do you think this Fantenberg kid, who’s a defenseman, can play up front?

Minnesota Wild: Sports hernias seem insanely bad to get. My advice, as a doctor: Don’t get one.

Montreal Canadiens: Folks, I have to go take a nap after reading this take.

Nashville Predators: *three hours later* Nashville is good.

New Jersey Devils: For hilarity’s sake: Yes they should trade the pick.

New York Islanders: Yeah I wasn’t too worried about Oshie being interested in signing with the Islanders anyway.

New York Rangers: Y’know whose fault this is? ….. Henrik Lundqvist’s? Hold on.

Ottawa Senators: That this even remotely has to be a headline is amazing in 2017.

Philadelphia Flyers: Like I said about the Devils: Yes they should trade the pick. But what I didn’t tell you was, they should trade it to me. I am starting an NHL team.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Wow the Pens only have two chances left to eliminate the Capitals again. Cowards! Losers!

San Jose Sharks: Both Marleau and Thornton should take less to play second-line minutes for a contender. Preferably the same contender. That would rule.

St. Louis Blues: Who are even the guys on the Blues’ second power play unit? Is one of them a mop?

Tampa Bay Lightning: This is always a bad quote to see from people on a team everyone thought was gonna be dynamite this year.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Willy Nylander was fun as hell to watch against the Germans on Saturday afternoon. What a player.

Vancouver Canucks: My brain just exploded.

Vegas Golden Knights: Knowing this team, the replica jerseys absolutely won’t be ready by August. Maybe January.

Washington Capitals: The real takeaway here is: The Caps can’t succeed unless Alex Ovechkin is demoted to the third line.

Winnipeg Jets: I definitely trust Kevin Cheveldayoff to make good decisions just kidding.

Play of the Weekend

I’m legit stunned the league actually decided this was a goal. Great effort from literally everyone involved.

Gold Star Award

Erik Karlsson is such a freak. Oh my god. He played 31-plus minutes, was like a 67 percent possession player, and had three assists. On one foot.

And for those scoring at home, this bumps Ottawa to outscoring opponents 17-10 when he’s on the ice (63 percent), and being outscored 10-16 when he’s off (38.5 percent). That’s a pretty big swing.

Minus of the Weekend

Chris Neil played only 2:26 out of Game 5’s 66:28 but Ottawa won so clearly Boucher is a genius. Eat it, calculator nerds!!!!

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “Leafed” is handling the postseason well.

To Vancouver:
retain 1.25 million of Gudbranson contract
C Nick Schmaltz
LW Ryan Hartman
D Brent Seabrook (@6m)
D Connor Carrick
2017 1st round pick (Chi)
2017 2nd round pick (Tor)

To Chicago:
retain 0.8 million of Seabrook’s contract
LW James van Riemsdyk
LW Brendan Leipsic
D Erik Gudbranson (@ 1.25m)

To Toronto:
D Chris Tanev

Signoff

More important than money? Who is this?

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)

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