By Steve Silverman
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If the recently concluded Stanley Cup Final is looked at as a referendum on how to play the game of hockey, the new Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault needs to spend a lot more time studying how the Chicago Blackhawks play hockey rather than the way the Boston Bruins approach the game.
Vigneault is very familiar with both teams. When coaching the Vancouver Canucks, a rivalry steeped in hatred and disrespect developed with both of this year’s Stanley Cup Finalists.
The Blackhawks and Canucks met in the postseason in three straight years between 2009 and 2011. Chicago won two of those matchups. The Canucks and Bruins met in the 2011 finals, and while those two teams were unfamiliar with each other, the hatred reached a white-hot level in Game 1 when Alex Burrows bit Patrice Bergeron’s finger.
Vigneault probably had a distaste for both of the teams lingering in his gut, but his resentment can’t overwhelm his responsibility to the Rangers. He had to observe that Chicago’s skill with the puck and skating superiority trumped Boston’s defensive prowess and physical strength.
The Rangers have been built to play a game much more similar to the one that the Bruins play, rather than the one that the Blackhawks play. That’s not good enough and that’s one of the reasons that Vigneault was hired. The Rangers need to flush the idea that blocking shots and taking the body are the most important things that they can do on the ice. They need to flush all of John Tortorella’s ideas out of their heads and go with a new game plan.
Vigneault needs to do what comes naturally for him, and that means developing offensive creativity on a team that’s been nearly bereft of that commodity. Puck possession, crisp passing and using the five men on the ice to create offensive plays are what the game is all about. That’s why the team that eventually won the championship was able to raise the Stanley Cup.
The things that the Bruins do are things that the Rangers are capable of doing. They were superior at the defensive end and the physical aspects of the game in 2011-12, at least in the regular season, but it was not good enough to carry them in the playoffs.
Vigneault will teach and coach a much more creative style. However, the Rangers have been so married to their previous style of play that Vigneault is going to have to do his best coaching when it comes to convincing his players that it’s okay to concentrate on the offensive aspects of the game. Once the players realize that their coach has faith in them to develop that aspect of their game, the Rangers have the talent in Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan and, perhaps, Brad Richards to play a different kind of game.
They just have to get Tortorella out of their system.
Speaking of their former coach, he was introduced as the head coach of the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday and he seemed like an introspective man. He spoke of all the problems he created for himself with the Rangers and his poor relationship with the media. He said he has learned from his mistakes and he will be a changed man.
Tortorella is not a stupid man and I have no doubt that he is sincere in what he says. However, he is a disciplinarian and a control freak. Once they lose their second game of the season, the Canucks and their fans will see the same tightly-wound Tortorella that the Rangers knew so well.
Tortorella and the Canucks will have an implosion before the end of the year. It will be great viewing from afar.
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