Memo to Alain Vigneault:
It’s been a pretty sweet run as head coach since you’ve come to New York — let’s put aside the current eight-game losing streak at home, the longest in franchise history. A trip to the Stanley Cup Final, a trip to the Eastern Conference Final, one President’s Trophy, an outstanding road record and making the playoffs in each of your four seasons. Earned yourself a contract extension.
To be sure, this Rangers team is younger than previous seasons, and has surpassed expectations.
General manager Jeff Gorton did a fine job in landing Mika Zibanejad, the formerly red-hot Michael Grabner (who will score again in his career, I’m pretty sure), Jimmy Vesey, Nick Holden, Adam Clendening and signing Antti Raanta to a two-year contract last May. And Brendan Smith, acquired at the trade deadline, has helped patch the cracked defense.
Getting some more size and toughness upfront for the playoff grind (Dwight King? Jarome Iginla?) might’ve helped, but these are the cards you have to play.
Nobody asked me, but the Twitter and blogger experts who, like yours truly, have no professional coaching experience but whip out their opinions on how to do your job daily, so why not? (Transparency: I did once guide a Little League team to some fair-to-middling seasons in the sun.)
Some pre-playoff thoughts:
Shouldn’t Brady Skjei be on the second defense pairing? He’s the least of the problems on your blue line. And it may not be so farfetched to give banged-up captain Ryan McDonagh more time off before April 12, when the first round begins. He’s going to be carrying heavy minutes, as will Marc Staal. Treat Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein with care, although we are well aware that you like to give vets longer leashes. Nice to see Nick Holden contribute offensively, but well, you know the joke about the bakery and turnovers. Think hard about giving Clendening some ice time.
Upfront, there’s some tinkering that can be done. The Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello line should stay together, and Rick Nash has been coming on strong on the second trio. J.T. Miller should be stapled to his line, beginning when the pucks drops Sunday against Philadelphia. Zibanejad, who missed almost a third of the season with the broken fibula, still seems too tentative, but he’s got the tools, good at the dot and can find his wingers.
Maybe it’s me, but Kevin Hayes has been drifting, two goals in 22 games and underwhelming on faceoffs (well, good against Pittsburgh) and sometimes on the backcheck. He needs another jolt. Grabner’s speed can be disruptive, and if he could have somehow found the net on his dozen breakaways and open looks recently, we wouldn’t complain one iota. Should Jesper Fast be on that third line, or would Jimmy Vesey be a better fit?
Just my opinion, but Fast seems more comfortable and effective on a fourth line with fellow Swede Oscar Lindberg. Now the problem: Where does rookie Pavel Buchnevich slide in? Not the right fit on four, but there’s no easy add. Matt Puempel? Tanner Glass? Brandon Pirri? Maybe Buchnevich, who each can also slot into a power-play unit, rotate between the third and fourth lines.
One more suggestion: That pretty, but often agonizing, extra pass? Use judiciously.
Goals are coming from the crease, deflections and quick putbacks on rebounds. Your fellows need to throw pucks at the net and get to the paint. The power play has improved, but work more on the penalty-kill.
And finally, truth be told, any success rides on Henrik Lundqvist again. He has several more games to find his pre-injury rhythm, and he was more patient, less jumpy, and in position against the Penguins on Friday.
You know this, the fans know it, opponents know it: Teammates need to push back and protect him. Without Lundqvist’s vintage game, there won’t be any bouquets this spring.
HEARD AND SEEN
The Rangers need a point against the Flyers today or a Bruins loss to secure the first-wild card berth…Adidas’ new home uniforms for next season are expected to be unveiled at the annual entry draft on June 23-24 in Chicago. Rangers will retain the traditional blue…Faced with a second consecutive 20-percent increase in prices and a 50-percent increase in playoff prices, several readers and long-time season-ticket holders have told me that they have informed the Garden that they are not renewing…My October predictions for the Metropolitan Division weren’t exactly on target, but not too shabby. 1. Capitals. 2. Penguins. 3. Flyers. 4. Rangers (Wild-Card). 5. Islanders (Wild-Card). 6. Devils. 7. Blue Jackets. 8. Hurricanes. Did not foresee the rise of Columbus and Carolina. In the Atlantic Division, had the Lightning, Canadiens and Bruins as the top three…The Blueshirts lost seven in a row at home twice: In the 1976-77 season (October-November) and the 1991-92 season (March-April)
The six wins in March (6-5-4) ---and last’s year’s 6-5-3 record---matched the fewest victories in that month since the 2009-10 season. If there’s any upside for fans, the Rangers have posted a winning record in April in seven of the last eight seasons.