30 in 15: Rangers hope to quickly adapt to new system
Wednesday, 09.25.2013 / 3:00 AM
The New York Rangers made very few changes this summer to a roster that features All-Star talent at every position.
But the team did make wholesale changes behind the bench, replacing John Tortorella with Alain Vigneault, who over time installed his own coaching staff, which includes associate coach Scott Arniel.
How the Rangers respond to Vigneault and his new system could ultimately dictate whether this club moves forward or backward from the unit that got hot down the stretch last season before losing to the Boston Bruins in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Vigneault's open system is expected to be quite a contrast from Tortorella's more conservative approach. And it's something Rangers players admit is going to take some getting used to.
"Obviously we have a whole new system and guys are coming in and trying to learn it," defenseman Marc Staal said following a 4-1 preseason loss to the Calgary Flames on Monday. "We had a good week of practice and there's a lot we can learn from today and build on. It's not going to come overnight. It's going to take a lot of hard work on our part."
The process of acclimating to Vigneault's style will be especially difficult for the Rangers. With Madison Square Garden undergoing the final phase of its renovation, the Rangers will play their first nine games on the road. They also could start the season without their top line, as captain Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin are recovering from offseason surgeries and restricted free agent Derek Stepan remains unsigned.
There will be some major growing pains for this team, but in an 82-game schedule, they could overcome it.
The Rangers made very few changes to their forward unit, with the signing of free agents Benoit Pouliot and Dominic Moore being the major additions. But there could be some big names missing come opening night. Neither Callahan nor Hagelin are expected to dress after both underwent offseason shoulder surgeries. Perhaps more troubling is the absence of Stepan, last season's leading scorer with 44 points.
Not being able to work with three of his top forwards only further stunts Vigneault's efforts to integrate his system. But he admits it also provides a unique opportunity to see what some of his top young prospects have to offer.
"We have a lot of kids, whether it be [Marek Hrivik], [Jesper] Fast, [Danny] Kristo that are catching my attention with what they're doing on the ice," Vigneault said after the loss Monday.
Acquired from the Montreal Canadiens during the summer, Kristo was a scoring dynamo last season as a senior at the University of North Dakota and in training camp has at times played on a line with All-Stars Rick Nash and Brad Richards. If that line finds chemistry, they could be dangerous. But the key ultimately could be Richards, who needs to rebound from a disappointing 2012-13 season in order to improve an offense that ranked 15th in goals per game last season.
For a few seasons the Rangers' defensive corps has been a strong suit. A group that includes Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Michael Del Zotto and Anton Stralman was bolstered last season by the addition of 22-year-old John Moore. Moore was brought to the team in the trade that sent Marian Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets and immediately became a fixture on the blue line. His long reach and strong skating allowed him to cover a lot of ground and he immediately won the favor of Tortorella.
Justin Falk was added to give the unit more depth, but the greatest addition could be a healthy Staal. The All-Star missed the last 27 regular-season games and all but one game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs after being hit in the right eye with a puck. But Staal said during the summer that he has fully recovered from the injury.
If the defense remains healthy, they should continue to play a large role in the Rangers' success.
They don't come any more consistent in net than Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist will return for his ninth season in the Rangers' crease and has made it clear that, even with the new coaching staff, he doesn't plan on making any changes to the form that has made him one of the world's best goaltenders.
"For me personally, I'll still work with my goalie coach a lot and work on the same details. The change for me won't be as big," Lundqvist told NHL.com. "I'm excited to see how it's going to affect the team. Hopefully in a good way. We try something new. We had a good run with [Tortorella], but it's time to try something else."