‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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When Rangers general manager Glen Sather made the big call of firing temperamental head coach John Tortorella on May 29, 2013, he was fortunate that the Vancouver Canucks had opted to part ways with Alain Vigneault a week earlier.
Vigneault had conveniently fallen into the lap of a Rangers organization that required a fresh voice behind the bench. Tortorella’s penchant for grinding, self-sacrificing, defense-first hockey had grown tedious and stale to those whose duty it was to pull on the blue, red and white sweater of the Rangers.
At Vigneault’s introductory press conference held at Radio City Music Hall on June 21, 2013, Sather admitted that Tortorella’s style was wearing out the Blueshirts.
“I think we needed a change in style,” Sather said. “If you look at the injuries we had over the years, a number of guys really got the crap kicked out of them in our end because we constantly had to defend our own end. That style was perfect here for a couple years, but I think it started to wear our team out. With the injuries that we had this year, it started to take a toll on our hockey club.”
What the Rangers needed was a 180-degree change in approach, philosophy and direction. Both inside the Rangers’ dressing room walls and through press conference pot shots, Tortorella had alienated a number of players during his final campaign in New York.
The first and most important task of the Vigneault era was rebuilding the confidence of the Blueshirts. Throughout training camp, the Rangers wore T-shirts displaying the following motto: “Clean Slate — Grab It!” Every player had a fair opportunity to prove that he was worthy of making the October 3 opening-night roster, and Vigneault himself did not come into camp with any preconceived notions about his new roster.
Vigneault admitted during training camp that he largely refused to watch game film of the Rangers from the previous season.
”If I watched an hour of the team last year, that’s the most I watched, and I did it on purpose,” Vigneault said. “I really want everybody to come in with a clean slate. I don’t want to come in here with any preconceived notions. I want guys to have a legitimate chance.”
Vigneault’s decision to abstain from game tape seemed unconventional, given his need to familiarize himself with his new team and his reputation for meticulously studying game film during his seven-year tenure in Vancouver. This left him open to criticism as the Rangers began the 2013-14 regular season in unspectacular fashion. New York lost three of its first 10 games under its new head coach, including lopsided defeats in San Jose (9-2), Anaheim (6-0) and New Jersey (4-0).
His uptempo system was difficult for players to grasp after Tortorella spent years deprogramming the Rangers from playing anything remotely close to expressive, creative hockey. With Vigneault at the helm, Rangers defensemen were suddenly required to carry the puck up ice and join the rush. His north-south system placed a high emphasis on speed and possession.
Things finally clicked for the Rangers near the midway point of the season. The Blueshirts finished the season a scorching 29-13-4 record over their 46 final regular-season games. Gaining the vital experience, skill and inspiration of 38-year-old winger Martin St. Louis, the Rangers made an incredible playoff run to reach their first Stanley Cup Final since 1994.
Vigneault’s first season in New York has been nothing short of a rousing success. Whether or not the Rangers extend their season to a fifth Stanley Cup Final game, it’s clear that Vigneault has paved the way for future triumphs for the “Original Six” hockey club that calls 33rd Street and 7th Avenue its home.
What the Rangers have accomplished under Vigneault’s command appears to be a prelude for things to come. The head coach is harnessing the most out of Ryan McDonagh, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Benoit Pouliot and Carl Hagelin. Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and John Moore blew hot and cold in their first season working with AV. Yet there’s an overwhelming feeling that all of these players will reach their full potential under Vigneault’s watch.
This is just the beginning. Vigneault’s roster will continue to evolve into one that is geared toward executing his uptempo philosophies. He will eventually have the chance to work closely with promising speedsters Jesper Fast, Danny Kristo, Anthony Duclair and Pavel Buchnevich. The future looks extremely bright for the Blueshirts.
CARCILLO ELIGIBLE FOR GAME 4 RETURN; DORSETT STRUGGLING WITH INJURY
Having served the remainder of a shortened six-game suspension, winger Dan Carcillo is eligible to return to the Rangers’ lineup for Game 4. Carcillo has been practicing with the team, but hasn’t played since elbowing linesman Scott Driscoll on May 22.
Previously, it seemed that Carcillo had played his final game for the Blueshirts. Vigneault expressed concern for the 29-year-old’s career following the incident. Carcillo is an upcoming unrestricted free agent. He is earning $850,000 in the final year of a two-year contract.
“Obviously, it’s inexcusable what Dan did,” Vigneault said on May 24. “But those situations or incidences put one after the other — a young gentleman’s career moving forward might be very tough.”
Now, Carcillo could have the chance to make an impact in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. The Rangers are up against the wall, trailing the Los Angeles Kings 3-0 ahead of Wednesday night’s Game 4.
Fourth-line agitator Derek Dorsett played for five minutes and 41 seconds in Game 3, only being able to take three shifts. Dorsett was slew-footed by Los Angeles defenseman Jake Muzzin late in the second period. The 27-year-old winger landed hard on his tailbone.
Should Dorsett be unable to dress for Game 4, Carcillo becomes the most experienced replacement option. He offers similar disruptive qualities that can throw opponents off their game.
Carcillo skated with the extras at Tuesday’s optional practice. He has scored two goals through eight playoff games. Dorsett has appeared in 21 playoff games, registering one point.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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