There seems to be no person under more pressure on the New York Rangers than head coach Alain Vigneault. The team has gotten off to a woeful 1-5-0 start and can’t seem to get out of their own way with some very sloppy play. In years past, these mistakes could have been masked, as the Rangers were a prolific scoring team, but they can’t do that either right now.
But it’s not time to panic yet. The Rangers need to trust in their head coach to get this group of players on track. A lot has been made of the turnovers this season, and even I have taken note. But the truth of the matter is, over the last four games, a Rangers goaltender has only been beaten seven times. The Rangers, though, have only scored six times themselves in that span. So, you see the issue here – not enough production on the offensive end of the ice.
— Stephen Valiquette (@VallysView) October 13, 2017
This lack of production, however, is not through lack of chances, as indicated by the above tweet. It is also not due to lack of shooting, either. The Rangers average 33.5 shots per game, which ranks 11th-best in the league. And they out-shoot their opponents by a margin of 2.5 shots per game, also 11th-best in the league. So, perhaps it has been a combination of playing hot goaltenders and being rusty to start the year. The chances are there for the Rangers – they just need to start finishing.
Vigneault’s Scoring Impact
Before Vigneault’s arrival in the summer of 2013, the Rangers were a below average scoring team and relied on Henrik Lundqvist to win games. Vigneault implemented a more up-tempo offense, which resulted in more goals.
However, it took a season to stake his claim on the team, as the Rangers finished 18th in goals per game in Vigneault’s first season. It is worth noting, though, that the Rangers went to the Stanley Cup Final in Vigneault’s first season. They lost to the Los Angeles Kings, but the overall mood around the club was positive moving forward.
Vigneault’s new system took hold over the next three seasons, where the Rangers finished in the top ten in scoring all three years. In the Lundqvist era, these are only three seasons in which he has had an offense finish in the top ten:
2014-15: 3rd with 3.02 goals per game
2015-16: 7th with 2.84 goals per game
2016-17: 4th with 3.09 goals per game
Over that same three-year span, the only other team to finish in the top ten in scoring all three years is the Washington Capitals. That is impressive, considering the Rangers do not have what one would consider a go-to scoring player. Whereas the Capitals have goal-scoring juggernaut Alexander Ovechkin, who scored 50+ goals in two of those three years. That helps a lot.
Subsequently, for the Rangers in those three years, they never had a player finish higher than 20th in points scored for a season and have had only one player score more than 28 goals in a season. Coincidentally, both those honors go to Rick Nash, when he netted 42 goals and totaled 69 points during the 2014-15 season.
Mats Zuccarello finished as the top scorer the last two seasons. Two years ago he finished tied for 35th in the league in points with 61 and last season he finished tied for 43rd with 59 points. So, if the Rangers have not relied on a top scorer, then how did they still manage to finish so high in goals per game? Depth. That’s how.
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Goals have been hard to come by for the New York Rangers in the early going of this season. In six games, they have managed to score only 13 total goals. That number equals a total of 2.17 goals per game, which sits them 26th in the NHL. With that sort of production, it is not hard to see why they have won only once in their first six tries. If you can’t score, you can’t win. A pretty simple concept.
In the past three years, the Rangers’ scoring by committee worked. But when a team slumps, it helps to have a go-to scorer. You know, like that Ovechkin guy. Rick Nash was brought in to be that top guy, but has only managed 38 goals and 36 assists combined the last two seasons. That’s points 74 points in 127 games played. As the highest paid skater on the team, that’s not good enough.Good thing the depth on the Rangers has been a major weapon. Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, and J.T. Miller have been instrumental in making the Rangers the team they are and all set career highs in points last season. All three are also still young. Kreider is the oldest at 26 years old, so presumably, there is still more to come from them. However, the jury is still out on whether any of them can mold into that much-needed go-to scorer role. Early results this season suggest not, but there is still plenty of season to find out.
Then there is Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey who can grow into more prominent roles this season. Vesey has looked poor in the early part of this season, but Buchnevich has looked dangerous. And ultimately, both have the potential to impact the Rangers as the season progresses.
Vigneault has shown he can get scoring out of this team and it is too early too to pull the plug on the offense and the coach. There is talent here. Whether or not it comes to fruition is another story, but a couple good performances and this slow start could be a problem of the past.
I cover the Rangers for The Hockey Writers. I have written for the Rangers previously at Fansided and my school paper at Brooklyn College. I graduated with a BA in English at Stony Brook University in 2012 and an MA in Media Studies at Brooklyn College in 2015. For someone who is 50% Finnish, I sure do love Henrik Lundqvist.