A 1-5 start is something no Rangers fan was expecting for their team that had just made the second round of the playoffs in 2016-2017 as they prepare to face-off against the 3-2-1 Pittsburgh Penguins tonight at MSG.
But that’s exactly where the Blueshirts are at after three straight losses following their lone win against the Montreal Canadiens. Alain Vigneault is officially on the hot seat and players are being held accountable for their shortcomings.
Players like Jimmy Vesey, Pavel Buchnevich, Michael Grabner, and Brendan Smith will all be getting substantially less ice-time than one would have expected them to get this season with all of these players being positioned on the bottom lines.
Buchnevich was part of what was perhaps the only effective forward lines for the Rangers of Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and the young second-year Russian winger. That entire line is being split up and the most striking changes include David Desharnais being bumped up from his fourth line role to the second line center role between Chris Kreider and JT Miller.
Desharnais had a key assist against the New Jersey Devils as he set up Rick Nash to give the Rangers the go-ahead goal. Vigneault is awarding him with the second line center spot – a role that he is certainly not unfamiliar with when he was with the Montreal Canadiens and serving as a multi-functional player that could be slotted in anywhere in the lineup.
The other stand-out includes first-year Ranger Tony DeAngelo being added to the first line defensive pairing with Ryan McDonagh. DeAngelo has inherent offensive instincts, but there is reason to question Alain Vigneault’s constant changes and moves with the defensive corps. There has been little opportunity for any cohesion and chemistry to develop between the defense, and the current hopes are that one of these combinations simply clicks.
Perhaps this will be the night things finally come together and things do indeed start clicking for the club, but if not these changes are very bold and could end up costing Alain Vigneault his job if they don’t pan out.
Player to watch
Rick Nash picked up his first goal of the season against the Devils and has generally been an imposing offensive threat despite his lack of finish through these first six games. Nash has the most shots on the team and has registered nearly a dozen scoring chances from high-scoring areas, but he has just one point through this struggling start.
If the Rangers expect to turn things around tonight he’ll need to step up a play to his contract’s worth.
Matt Murray has not lost in regulation yet this season and has historically performed well against the Rangers. The Rangers are going to be coming hard given their awful start. Murray will need to step up and make more than a few big saves to give his team a chance to win.
Murray is 6-0 all-time against the Rangers with a 1.64 GAA and a .940 save percentage.
Rangers Projected Lines
Nash – Zibanejad – Zuccarello
Krieder – Desharnais – Miller
Vesey – Hayes – Fast
Grabner – Cracknell – Buchnevich
McDonagh – DeAngelo
Staal – Shattenkirk
Skjei – Smith