Good Morning
Good Morning
SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Alain Vigneault needs to light a fire under Rangers

New York Rangers' Alain Vigneault gives instructions during

New York Rangers' Alain Vigneault gives instructions during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016. The Rangers won 3-0. Credit: AP/ Gene J. Puskar

As metropolitan-area coaches go, Alain Vigneault flies under the sports talk radio / social media / newspaper column radar, what with hockey being hockey, his generally agreeable personality and his Rangers winning reliably.

But mid-spring brings a reminder to casual fans that his resume is an eye-opener, with more career postseason series victories (12) than the other eight current New York-area NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL coaches and managers combined (seven).

In 14 seasons with the Canadiens, Canucks and Rangers he has won seven division titles, three Presidents’ Trophies, two conference championships and one Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach.

And he does it in two languages, toggling seamlessly between his native French and English.

But still . . .

There is something missing for Vigneault, a certain trophy he has yet to win and that the Rangers have secured once since 1940.

Time is not running out on his career, not at age 54. But it certainly could be running out on this core group of players, which has added urgency to the present Stanley Cup chase after an uneven regular season.

All of which brings us to Game 4 of the Rangers’ first-round series against the Penguins Thursday night at the Garden.

Dear A.V., with all due respect: Figure something out, for the sake of your players and fans.

For something is amiss after a 3-1 loss in Game 3 in which many players expressed bafflement about their inability to solve the Penguins’ neutral zone tactics and Vigneault expressed bafflement about a lack of emotional “push” after falling behind 2-1 Tuesday night.

Hmm. I am pretty sure strategy and motivation fall squarely within a coach’s responsibilities.

Regarding the former, Vigneault said after practice Wednesday that it was not as if the players did not know how to attack the Penguins, it was that they did not follow the plan.

“It had a lot more to do with execution and making plays with the puck,” he said. “We know what to expect from Pittsburgh as far as their play in the neutral zone and the type of forechecking that they’re employing at this time. We know what works to counter against it. We have to go out and make the plays and execute.”

Even if that is so, an urgent refresher course might be in order. And Vigneault did say he and his staff were “putting something together video-wise with our group” for review Thursday, especially regarding special teams.

Vigneault later added that “execution is a big part of this, but there’s also will. There’s also compete level that goes along with that execution, those puck battles.”

Accusing hockey players of lacking “will” can be considered fighting words, or at least it should be. But pushing those buttons is part of a coach’s to-do list.

Vigneault is known as a delegator rather than a control freak, allowing assistants Scott Arniel to take the lead on power play strategy and Ulf Samuelsson on penalty kills.

Nothing wrong with that, especially compared to his high-strung predecessor, John Tortorella.

But Vigneault is CEO of the on-ice operation, and this is an urgent, take-charge moment. The Penguins have not lost back-to-back games in regulation time since mid-December, so falling behind, 3-1, in the series would be unwise.

Near the end of his news conference Wednesday Vigneault said, “We’re going to bounce back tomorrow.” The words read like a Messier-esque guarantee. The tone was one of quiet confidence. But it might be time to get loud.

New York Sports