Alain Vigneault knows the first two rules of coaching: If the team wins, the players have done wonderfully. If the team loses, it is all the coach’s fault. So be it. That is part of the job. He is not the type to opine about that, or about much of anything else.
Before the series, Senators coach Guy Boucher spoke of the “soul” of his team. On the Rangers’ side, Vigneault would be more likely to talk about the sole of his shoe. And even that might be pushing it.
Vigneault prefers not to dip too deeply into the well of emotion, at least publicly. He is a steady-as-she-goes type, which is both why he is here and, to a large degree, why the Rangers have bounced back to tie this series. He kept his team just calm enough and desperate enough to completely reverse the picture in the past six days. The Rangers scored a second straight 4-1 blowout Thursday night in Game 4.
Vigneault has pushed the right buttons — substituting Pavel Buchnevich for Tanner Glass at a key juncture in the last series and reversing the switch before Game 3 here against the Senators on Tuesday night — without getting anywhere near the panic button.
Right at the start of Game 4, he threw a curve at the Senators, starting Glass, an enforcer, with first-liners Derek Stepan and Rick Nash. “The boys were like ‘Ooooooh,’ ” Glass said with a smile. “That’s nothing we expect, but it’s something that’s nice.”
He took it as a pat on the back from the coach who had benched him last series. “It’s big. For my kind of player, it’s straight line, north-south, it’s predictable. He knows what to expect from me, and that’s a good thing,” Glass said after setting the tone with an instant hit on Jean-Gabriel Pageau, then earning No. 2 star status with two assists.
Vigneault refers to his preparation as “the process” and does not wax poetic from there. He is a coach for the social media age, fully aware that whatever you say can and will be used against you on Twitter. Still, he gets roasted by fans when his choices of defense pairings blow up in his face, as they did at the end of Game 2 in each of the two playoff series so far.
So be that, too. That also is part of the job. His low-key style is considered a strength by a franchise that wanted an antidote to the dyspeptic John Tortorella era.
Vigneault stood by Nick Holden after the defenseman was caught out of position on the double-overtime goal last Saturday, which put the Rangers behind two games to none. Holden scored the first goal in Game 4.
“As the year has gone on, I’ve been put in different situations,” he said. “Luckily, I’ve done well in some situations and they’ve continued to put me in them. Obviously, that’s what every player wants, confidence from the coach. And luckily, I have that.”
If a team’s performance under pressure is a result of the coach’s work, Vigneault gets straight A’s for the way he kept the Rangers going this postseason whenever they were staring into an abyss.
What never gets Vigneault going is the subject of Alain Vigneault. When an Ottawa-based reporter, who covered the coach in his early years on the junior level, asked him to ruminate about his past, Vigneault made a quip about not recommending that anyone start their NHL coaching career with an expansion team — as he did with the fledgling Senators. But that was about it.
He does have credentials. Among all-time Rangers coaches, he ranks second in series won and third in games won. He has won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach and has taken two teams to the Stanley Cup Final.
What he doesn’t have is a championship ring. And he probably will never be beloved in New York unless he does. He knows that. He has coached the Canadiens, so he knows what heat feels like. His legacy is not his worry, nor is his popularity. The thing now is the next game, the process. That’s the soul of coaching.