Rangers hope changed focus to defense will spark team
Head coach Alain Vigneault is cognizant his team has lost four of the first five games of the franchise-record nine-game homestand.
It is a fact neither he nor the Rangers can escape.
Still, Vigneault was stressing positives prior to Wednesday night’s nationally televised match with the Penguins, believing the Rangers may have developed some confidence in the aftermath of Sunday’s 4-3 shootout win over Calgary.
“That’s what we’re counting on,” Vigneault told reporters following the optional skate at Madison Square Garden Wednesday morning. “It was a hard-fought game, a game that, like we mentioned before, [we] had to come back twice. Hopefully we can build on that and bring that to tonight’s game. What’s happened in the past, we’ve turned the page on it and we’re focused on Pittsburgh tonight and we’re ready for it.”
Hired to implement an attack-first style of hockey, Vigneault has acknowledged his team have to play a more defensive style until further notice. Even though the Rangers have allowed 3.8 goals per game in the last five, Vigneault pointed to the lack of scoring chances opponents have had.
“We’ve put, obviously, a little more focus on that [defense],” Vigneault said. “I want to say in our last five games, there’s only been one where we gave up more than 12 chances. We gave up 13 and all of the other ones have all been 11. The last game we gave up eight scoring chances. We’ve done a better job of coming back to our house, protecting the house. We’ve done a better job of being a little bit stronger in those one-on-one situations and then right from there, if we can outnumber and get the puck we’ve done a better job of that. We’ve continued to forecheck and have our ‘D’ part of the forecheck. I think overall defensively we’ve been getting better and I’m confident that if we do that we’re going to win our fair share of games.”
In order to win hockey games, a team must score, which has been an issue for the Rangers during the homestand. The Rangers have only scored 11 goals in the five games, an average of 2.2 goals per game, and have only one power play goal in 15 opportunities with the man advantage in that time.
Yet Vigneault believes his man advantage units are close.
“Our power play has been getting some good looks,” Vigneault said. “I like a lot of things about our power play. I would love it if we would finish a little bit more but we’ve got a good net presence in Chris Kreider. The other guys are moving the puck around real well and going to the options that we’ve talked about. We’ve just been a little bit behind on some of the execution. The chances that we’re getting are B, B-plus. We could be getting some grade-A chances with just a little bit better execution. We work on our power play a lot, we’re going to continue to work on it and hopefully it’s going to get us the success that we need.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.