BUFFALO--- When Alain Vigneault publicly called out his veterans and core leaders on Tuesday to be more consistent, he didn’t name names.
But the detective work was easy: The captain, Ryan Callahan, the alternates, Marc Staal and Brad Richards; Dan Girardi, Henrik Lundqvist, Derek Stepan, perhaps Dom Moore and Brian Boyle.
If you read my coverage, I suspected Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh were exempt.
Today, Vigneault said the only defenseman who is playing above expectations, with an upswing, was Ryan McDonagh, indicting Staal, Girardi and Anton Stralman.
None of the defensemen rotating on the third pairing, John Moore, who dressed Thursday, Michael Del Zotto and Justin Falk “have proven that they can be in the top two pairs; the closest would be Moore,” Vigneault said. “With both Michael and Falk, whether they play depends more on the team, whether you need more puck movement or maybe a little more bite.”
There's some truth in what AV says, especially when it comes to offense, but this club doesn't have that much on the blueline. He needs more from forwards, too.
Girardi’s game was really more suited to John Tortorella’s shot-blocking style and at 29, with a lot of wear and tear, may have lost a step.
Staal, who was struck in the right eye by a puck last March, played 21 games and one playoff game before vision issues forced him to shut down. In 2011-12, he skated in just 46 regular-season games after sustaining a concussion, and 20 playoff games.
So in those two years, Staal, 26, has played about the equivalent of one season, and that, according Vigneault, “is probably a factor” in his inconsistent performance this season, with just two goals, an assist and a minus-7 on the books in 28 games.
“He’s (Staal) concerned about how he’s playing,’’ said Vigneault. “Most of his problems are puck-related, decisions with the puck, that’s why he’s defending so much. I’ve seen him make some great outlet passes, find the seam, join the rush at the right time, but two or three shifts after, not make the play that needs to be made. There’s no doubt in my mind he wants to do real well and we’re gonna stick with him. He’s just going through a rough patch, we’re almost 30 games in, but he did not play a lot in the last couple of years, so that’s probably a factor.”