The New York Rangers lost game five in overtime after blowing another late lead. Alain Vigneault has been, once again, leaning on his veterans to protect a late lead. But with the Rangers down in the series, it’s time to talk about why Vigneault’s deployment of his players needs to change.
“The New York Rangers Blow a Late Lead and Then Lose in Overtime”. Where have I heard that headline before? Oh right, after game two of the first round and after games two and five of the second round.
It is easy to try and blame game five on the refs, as many fans believe that Kyle Turris was offsides (he wasn’t offsides per Rule 630, subsection b). The reality is that the Rangers were, once again, done in by the deployment of their players in the final minutes of the third period.
It should be clear by now that Alain Vigneault needs to change his deployment. The topic has been beaten like a dead horse, but for good reason.
The Rangers should be up in the series, but they aren’t simply due to the wrong players playing in the final minutes of close games. Ottawa has barely held a lead in this series, which means that there are no excuses for the Rangers being down 3-2.
Let’s look at how Alain Vigneault can change the Rangers’ late-game woes and why he should make these changes.
It is time for Marc Staal to take a seat in the press box. He had a horrendous game five and has been awful for most of the postseason, to put it kindly. Staal was on the ice for nine scoring chances against in regulation (Nick Holden was also on for nine, but at least he’s starting to chip in offensively) during game five.
To make matters worse, Brady Skjei did not play in the final five minutes of regulation despite his outstanding performance. The tying goal was scored when Vigneault decided to shift Staal, in the place of Skjei, with Brendan Smith during the dying minutes of the third.
It’s almost like there is a direct correlation between the Rangers blowing late leads and Brady Skjei getting benched in favor of Marc Staal. And by that, I mean that it’s abundantly clear to everyone except for Alain Vigneault at this point.
It is hard to see how Adam Clendening, who allowed the lowest amount of scoring chances against per 60 minutes of all Rangers’ defensemen during the regular season, could be any worse than Marc Staal at this point. But, given the past history with Vigneault, Staal will continue to play over him for some unknown reason.
Since personnel changes on defense are extremely unlikely, Vigneault is simply going to have to shelter the Staal- Holden pairing again. In games three and four, Vigneault gave Skjei and Smith a ton of play time in the first two periods and then he went primarily to Staal – Holden after the Rangers had a multi-goal lead.
Vigneault needs to go back to this deployment strategy in order to win game six.
The offense has not been nearly as much of a problem as the defense. The Rangers have been scoring tons of goals in the second round. However, that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be adjustments made to the Rangers forward group.
Tanner Glass‘ resurgence was nice in games three and four, but the old Glass is slowly rearing its ugly head. In only 12 minutes played, Glass was on the ice for three goals against. One of those goals was the tying, and another was the game-winner.
With a minute or so to go, there is no reason for a guy like Glass to be playing. He isn’t a shutdown player by any means. His usage in the final few minutes is baffling.
The Rangers have been the better team for the vast majority of the series. Their biggest issues have come when leading by a goal late in the third period. If the Rangers can fix their issues by playing the proper people at the proper time, they can come back and win the series in seven.
But it’s going to fall on Alain Vigneault making the right calls in close games. So far, his track record isn’t amazing in these situations. It’s time to fix that.