Let’s make one thing clear: this article is not a knock on Alain Vigneault. He has done good things for the New York Rangers. His system and influence have encouraged the team to shoot the puck and put a premium on puck possession. The power play is also vastly improved. However, like many teams that lack scoring depth, the Rangers have had to grind out the vast majority of their victories this season. Sound familiar? It is the mentality former head coach John Tortorella emphasized.
Tortorella brings his Vancouver Canucks to Madison Square Garden Saturday in what looks to be a very emotional day. On the other side, Vigneault sees the team he used to coach for the first time. Each team did a coaching “switch” this past offseason for contrasting reasons. The Canucks needed more of the “black-and-blue” mentality Tortorella instilled in the Rangers, and the Rangers needed the more wide-open approach Vigneault brings.
As mentioned in an earlier column, however, the Rangers simply do not have the personnel to perfect Vigneault’s system at this time. Recent victories against the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers demonstrate this. The Rangers played mistake-prone hockey, yet came away with victories due to Henrik Lundqvist’s goaltending, simply outworking their opponents and waiting for opportunities. Because of the personnel on the ice available to him, Tortorella understood this was the way his teams needed to win games.
Vigneault has helped the Rangers diversify their game. The Tortorella influence is still there, though. They may not block as many shots and the power play is not as anemic, but the grinding mentality still exists. Until scoring depth is added to the roster, the Tortorella way is how the Rangers will have to win games.