Monday, October 30, 2017

Weekend wrap: Ranger things

Well, that was the scariest thing any of us watched over the weekend.

On Saturday, we geared up for the Rangers/Canadiens matchup by trying to figure out if it was too early for a must-win game. Both teams were struggling badly, and both were taking plenty of heat for it. And one of them was going to walk out of Montreal with yet another tough loss.

One entertaining 5–4 final later, the Canadiens left with those two desperately needed points. They’re still sitting in last place in the East, and still have a long way to go to claw back into the Atlantic race. But for a few days, at least, we can stop working on our Montreal Canadiens obituaries.

The Rangers, on the other hand… yikes.

As a rule of thumb, you know your season isn’t going according to plan when you find yourself saying “This feels like a crucial game, so let’s bench the future Hall of Famer and give Ondrej Pavelec another start.” But with Henrik Lundqvist struggling and Pavelec coming off a win over the Coyotes, the Rangers went with the hot hand. It didn’t work.

That’s not to say Pavelec was to blame for New York’s loss. The Rangers were outshot 43-26, including 19-2 in the first period, and found themselves trailing 3-0 before the game was 14 minutes old. That continued a season-long trend of the Rangers falling behind early, often by multiple goals before the game is more than a few minutes old. They say all the right things about being ready to play, but never seem to back it up.

That’s the sort of thing that can end up costing a coach his job, and we seem to be getting dangerously close to that scenario playing out in New York. Yesterday, Larry Brooks reported that Alain Vigneault could be fired if the Rangers lose to the Golden Knight tomorrow night. If that’s true and management is ready to pull the trigger, then you have to figure Vigneault is already as good as gone at some point no matter what happens against Vegas.

If so, there’s an experienced replacement already in place – the Rangers hired former Sabres and Stars coach Lindy Ruff as an assistant this summer. Only three men have coached more NHL games, so Ruff would be a straightforward choice to run the show for at least the rest of the season, and he’s a guy who could come in and crack the whip if management thinks the players are getting complacent.

Then again, there’s little indication that a coaching change would fix much for this team. If Lundqvist is starting to show his age (and not just battling through a cold streak), a shaky blue line is going to keep giving up more goals than the patchwork forward unit can match. And since we’re constantly told that major roster changes are next to impossible during the season, that doesn’t leave much in the way of hope for a major turnaround.

And so, as usually happens, the focus goes behind the bench. For now, all eyes will be on tomorrow night’s Rangers/Golden Knights matchup, as we find out whether it’s a make-or-break night for a coach. And if the rumour mill is to be believed, we may not have to wait very long.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed towards Stanley Cup–favourite status.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins (7-5-1, -14 true goals differential*): Yes, I’m still forcing the defending champs into the top five even though they get completely destroyed once a week. I’m aware I have a problem. Maybe I’ll be able to let this go next week.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets (7-4-0, +6): The Jackets have an interesting split in their results. Only two of their wins have come against last year’s playoff teams, and one of those was the Rangers. And their four losses have come against the Blackhawks and the top three teams on our list.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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