Alain Vigneault channelled his inner John Tortorella Saturday night.
No, not inthat way.
A devotee to static line combinations, Vigneault reconstructed the four forward units before the Rangers’ not-entirely-crisp 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. Derek Stepan centered Chris Kreider and Martin St. Louis; J.T. Miller and Rick Nash skated on either side of Derick Brassard; the triumvirate of Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes and Carl Hagelin comprised the third line; Jesper Fast, Dominic Moore and Tanner Glass rounded out the fourth and final line combination.
The Rangers outshot [37-32] and out-attempted [64-62] a Carolina squad that’s slowly playing itself out of contention for the opportunity to select either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel in this June’s Entry Draft. But Vigneault, who slyly joked prior to the game that he had made “subtle” changes, wasn’t entirely satisfied by what he witnessed.
“I’m looking to get something that works together. Even if we were up 2-0 [after the first period] the scoring chances were probably 12 or 13 to three [in favor of the Hurricanes],” Vigneault said. Carolina had outshot the Rangers 15-8 in the first period, but trailed 2-0 due to goals from Nash and Moore 4:27 apart. Kreider and Dan Boyle scored goals 21 seconds apart in the third period.
In the short term, the win halted the Rangers’ two-game, post-All Star Break losing streak, and allowed the reigning Eastern Conference Champions to open up an eight-point lead over ninth seed Florida.
It is the long term that is concerning as entering the season’s fifth month Vigneault has not yet found line combinations he is comfortable with. The Rangers begin February with a stretch of eight games in 16 games, including matches Wednesday against Boston, Saturday in Nashville, and Presidents’ Day on Long Island against an Islanders team they have not defeated this season.
Essentially, it is fair to characterize February as a litmus test for the Rangers readiness for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“We didn’t start that well [against Carolina],” Henrik Lundqvist said after the game. “In the second half we started to execute a lot better, the passing was better and we got our speed going.
“It was good to score some goals as well.”