Evaluating Alain Vigneault’s First Season Coaching New York Rangers
After a shaky start to the 2013-14 season for the New York Rangers, it seemed that new head coach Alain Vigneault was not the answer the organization was looking for. There was even some speculation that Vigneault may not make it through the entire season before being relieved of his duties.
Fast-forward six months and that idea is a distant memory. Vigneault turned his team around and New York made the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons. Here are a few main reasons why Vigneault’s first season in New York has been a success.
Simplifying Their Offensive Game:
Vigneault coaches a different style than former Ranger coach John Tortorella, and puck possession has been a big difference this season. Tortorella coached his team to have a defensive mindset first, but became too passive and at times last season the Rangers just could not score.
Vigneault has brought in a style of play that runs on speed and possessing the puck. In the offensive zone the Rangers have not tried to get too fancy. Vigneault has stressed simply getting shots to the net and good things will happen. New York averaged 33.2 shots per game which was the best in the Eastern Conference and second in the NHL. Having depth at the defense position has allowed Vigneault’s possession-minded strategy to thrive. The overall chemistry of the team has drastically improved as the season has progressed.
Improving the Power Play:
New York hasn’t been stellar on the power play this season, but they have had streaks when it’s looked dangerous. Either way, the power play is an improvement from last year’s, which was a main reason for Tortorella getting fired. Tortorella was known as an above-average coach when it comes to running a productive power play, but last year New York ranked 23rd and had a power play percentage of 15.7 percent. That number improved to 18.2 percent and ranked 15th in the league this season. Vigneault has improved a power play that has done better to smoothly gain the offensive zone and set up quickly. Every team needs production from their power play in the postseason to have success, and the Rangers are no different.
Protecting the Lead:
Last year there would be times when New York would give up the lead due to a passive mindset and sloppy play in the defensive zone. This season Vigneault has pushed his players to stay aggressive with the lead. The Rangers won over 80 percent of the games that they scored first in. In addition, the Rangers have done a great job of closing out games. The team has a .903 winning percentage when they take a lead into the third period.
The players have bought into Vigneault’s philosophy, and the team looks poised to make a deep playoff run. The coach hopes to get back to his winning ways in the postseason. Vigneault and the Vancouver Canucks won 15 games in the 2010-11 postseason, but since then Vigneault has only won one playoff game in the last two seasons while losing eight games and suffering two first-round defeats. It’s a fresh postseason and the players believe in their coach. The Rangers are entering the postseason with confidence, and Vigneault is at the source of it.