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Hartnett: Rangers’ Season Hinges On Sather Listening To His Coach

Roster Not Close To Equipped For Vigneault's High-Octane Offensive System
The Rangers’ Derek Dorsett , bottom, is checked by Victor Bartley of the Predators during the second period at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 10, 2013. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Rangers’ Derek Dorsett , bottom, is checked by Victor Bartley of the Predators during the second period at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 10, 2013. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columnns

Alain Vigneault is lost at sea and his team is sinking like a stone.

Now sitting below NHL .500 at 15-16-1, the Rangers need Glen Sather to throw their new head coach a life preserver. Vigneault sent out a loud and clear distress signal to his general manager following Tuesday night’s 4-1 defeat to the Nashville Predators.

“I’ve got an idea of how I’d like it to play, but I’m not quite sure we have the personnel to play the type of game I’d like to play, which is more of an offensive-oriented,” Vigneault explained. “It should be obvious to everyone right now we have a challenge scoring goals. I’m not saying we won’t get there, but I’m saying right now it is a big challenge for us. We’ve got to be a little bit more defensive-oriented for right now.”

Vigneault bristled when asked directly if the onus was on Sather to mold the roster into one capable of playing the skilled and expansive brand of hockey that the coach desires.

“My job as the coach is to analyze the personnel I have and put a system in place that best suits them,” Vigneault said. “That’s my responsibility. That’s what I’m trying to do right now.”

CALLAHAN, STAAL ON SHELF; NOW WHAT?

Vigneault has tried to dial back his offensive approach into something more defensive-oriented. It isn’t working. The current Rangers roster does not possess the muckers and the grinders of yesteryear that would selflessly pay the physical price to win hockey games. Now that all-action captain Ryan Callahan has been lost for four to six weeks due to a second-degree left MCL sprain and shutdown defenseman Marc Staal is shelved for an indefinite period due to a concussion, the Rangers’ weak underbelly is showing.

The Blueshirts were barely keeping their heads above water before these injuries. Vigneault has tried to mix and match every line combination possible. Nothing is working.

“It just seems that tonight, sometimes we’re trying so hard — you can tell we were trying to do too much and that was causing problems,” Richards said. “It’s tough right now. This isn’t a fun part of the game, but it’s a great challenge for us to come together here and get back to work tomorrow. No one is going to feel sorry for us, no one coming into the building is going to give us a win. We have a lot of work to do.”

Until Vigneault and his Rangers get the help they need from Sather through the trade market, they have little choice but to try to win games by playing focused and physical. Can they do it? Alternate captain Brad Richards said that the Rangers will have to adopt a “win-ugly” mentality.

“We want everybody,” Richards said. “Sometimes you go through these things and it seems to get worse before it gets better and we lose Staalsy earlier in the week and then you lose Cally. It’s just being tested and we’re going to find out how much will and determination we have. We can’t hang our heads, it’s part of the game. We’ve got to believe that we’re putting in work in practice and trying to be mentally more sharp and focused. It’s going to have to get ugly. We might have to win a game 1-0 or 2-1 here, a couple of them. It’s got to get back to that mentality.”

Despite Richards’ belief, the ammunition isn’t there to play an ugly, yet effective brand of hockey. Observe the roster and it will show you that this team is not built to play the physical game and grind out victories. Taylor Pyatt, Benoit Pouliot and Arron Asham have failed to replicate the spirited play of past Rangers Brandon Dubinsky, Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko.

This current group of Rangers are missing the parts to either be a grinding team or an offensively skilled team. They might be forced out of necessity to go into a “John Tortorella shell” for the time being until Sather is able to acquire the pieces Vigneault desires to play his brand of offensive hockey. The Rangers are 1-14-1 when opponents score first. They’re going to have to cling to their leads for dear life, yet they might not have the personnel to even do that.

THE ONUS IS ON SATHER

Defense-first won’t be a successful strategy for the current Rangers because they simply aren’t built to win that way. The makeup of the roster is trending in the direction of one that is made to play Vigneault’s offensive style and it will continue to evolve over time into one that is capable of meeting this coach’s needs.

Vigneault has repeatedly mentioned he does not have the personnel to play his system. He needs help from Sather right now. It’s up to Sather to get busy on his cellphone and give his coach the kind of roster he needs to win games his way. Otherwise, they’ll continue to paddle into waters of mediocrity.

Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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