Alain Vigneault searches for answers to power-play drought
PITTSBURGH -- Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has a decision to make -- or maybe not -- about the Rangers' troubling performance with a man-advantage, and what he does could move the needle on this series with the Penguins.
Although the Rangers captured the first game of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series, beating Pittsburgh, 3-2, in overtime on Friday night, Vigneault said Saturday that he is mulling personnel changes on the power-play units, which have been 3-for-33 in the postseason.
"I've been giving that a lot -- some thought," Vigneault said during a break in team meetings. "Our first power play [Friday], we got some real good opportunities. There's two things: I think you've got to trust your players to find a way to get it done. Some other times, it's the options that you have, and the other thing that comes into consideration is that at this time of year, you don't practice a lot. So I'm thinking of all those things right now. It's a topic, without a doubt."
Against the Penguins, the Rangers went 0-for-4. "I liked our first two," Vingneault said. "I didn't like the last two in the second period. I'm not sure if it was because they killed two penalties, but we lost momentum."
If Vigneault believes practice is critical, it is unlikely that the units will change for Game 2 here Sunday night. And with a back-to-back for Game 3 in New York Monday night (the Rangers' sixth game in nine days) without a full practice, Vigneault and associate coach Scott Arniel might resort to shuffling forwards for part of a power play if the 0-for-the-last-25 streak continues.
He apparently will not try defensemen Marc Staal or Anton Stralman, who generally are sent out after a power play ends, on the points. "There are other reasons that I'm probably not comfortable sharing with you," he said.
The logical option would be forward Chris Kreider, who has six power-play goals and six assists, but he has been sidelined with a broken left hand for 18 games. The other forward options include Carl Hagelin, Brian Boyle and J.T. Miller and defenseman Raphael Diaz.
Brad Richards believes a little more creativity would help. "We're trying to look for things and map it out," he said. "That happens in a playoff series when you're seeing so much video; you're trying to exploit different things. The last two [Friday], we were focused on trying to do certain things. You've got to be able to ad-lib."
On Sunday night, the Rangers will seek to break their NHL-record 12-game losing streak while holding a series lead. A power-play goal or two could tip the scales.
Derek Stepan, Richards and Benoit Pouliot have scored the three postseason power-play goals. "It comes down to execution and playing with a little confidence," Stepan said. "When we were clicking, we had five-man units that executed."
Notes & quotes: Vigneault often has brushed aside questions about his seven years behind the bench in Vancouver, saying he doesn't live in the past. But he did mention the Canucks and their loss in the Stanley Cup Final in 2011 when asked about why he insists on rolling four lines, providing less time for the top forwards.
"When we lost the Cup to Boston, Boston was a four-line team, probably the best fourth line, I felt, in the league. We didn't have four lines," said Vigneault, who believes that all the Cup champions since the 2004-05 lockout had that depth. "From that experience, if you can play four lines, manage the minutes, I think you can play a higher tempo and a faster-paced game."