In The Crease With Kappy: Why Vigneault’s line juggling is necessary

USA Today
The Rangers came out with a new look for the third period of their November 17th matchup versus the Columbus Blue Jackets, after failing to generate any offensive chances in the middle frame. Fans broke out in an eruption of “Why are you moving Buchnevich off of the first line AV!” And to their credit, moving Buchnevich wasn’t the answer for Vigneault as the Rangers went on to lose 2-0.

Fast forward two nights later and the Rangers fielded a different looking lineup. Vigneault opted to keep the KZB (Kreider, Zibanejad, Buchnevich) line intact, but slotted Jesper Fast on the second line, alongside Nash and Hayes. Mats Zuccarello was moved to the third line with JT Miller at center and Michael Grabner on the opposite wing. To put this all into context, the Rangers lineup during their six-game winning streak versus what it was changed to looks as follows:

Kreider – Zibanejad – Buchnevich  / Kreider – Zibanejad – Buchnevich

Nash – Hayes – Zuccarello / Nash – Hayes – Fast

Miller – Desharnais – Vesey / Grabner – Miller – Zuccarello

Grabner – Nieves – Fast / Carey – Nieves – Vesey

So why demote Vesey and Zuccarello while promoting Fast and Grabner? Simple, they aren’t promotions. During the six-game streak, the Rangers preyed on a feast or famine top line and were essentially dependent upon that line, and/or the PP, to put up the bulk of their points. Having Grabner on the fourth line allowed for speed to pressure the opponents third defensive pairing. But the glaring issue was that third line. It wasn’t having a tremendous type of output and essentially thinned out the four lines, making the Rangers a little bit top heavy.

AP

Vigneault, by slotting Miller over to center and giving him a playmaker on his wing in Zuccarello essentially told Miller “Play your game, but don’t feel like you have to distribute.” He wants him as a center to be a shooter, and Grabner’s speed opens that up for him. I initially speculated seeing Buchnevich on that line, but I see Vigneault’s logic here.

Lastly, Kevin Hayes and Rick Nash have been so strong together, playing well at both ends of the ice, that Vigneault was comfortable taking some playmaking off that line and adding the defensively responsible Jesper Fast.

A lot of this is going to depend on how reliable the fourth line can be. In today’s game, you have to be able to roll four lines in order to compete; and against Ottawa, Vigneault was able to do just that. You also saw some sparks in the Miller line as he looked comfortable in the center role. If the fourth line can continue to play that way, it will afford the luxury to Vigneault to be able to “juice” up that Miller line and possibly give the Rangers a formidable look up the middle.

As a note, I believe Carey was in for his size and Desharnais will be more of a mainstay on the fourth line as he has a bit more playmaking ability. If you notice, Vigneault’s best lineups have always had two centermen on the 4th line.

These are some small tweaks that are definitely worth keeping an eye on. I may not always agree with AV, but I do respect his hockey knowledge and always try to find his reasoning behind it. I like this reasoning.

Cheers, all and Happy Thanksgiving!

 

2 comments

  • I agree with some of what you say but I believe there is more to it then being stated. I didnt get to see the busy CBJ game, so Im not sure if the shake up wasnt just a shake up to provide a spark in the game or if Butch was “demoted to be demoted”. As for the other line changes I think it was more about chemistry and role then demotions/promotions.

    KBZ line has shown the best chemistry, was shaken up to try to spread scoring, didnt work an AV put them back together. While Butch saw 4th line time, he was never moved off the top pp. The only one who was off the first pp was Kreider and was moved for Nash on the second. Their role generate offense.

    Nash/Hayes/Zucc to Fast. While this line generated chances, it didnt provide as much offense as hoped. One issue is all 3 players want the puck in the same spot of the rink (coming over the blue line with the puck, to set up the play off the rush), while it doesnt hurt to have the three of the together its helps to have one of those guys. Inserting Fast here provides the guy whos always going to go to the corner/front of the net yes all 3 of Nash/Hayes/Zuc do, but that is Fast role. This line however has 3 penalty killers, all who create offense. Their role is to make sure they shut down the Stamkos/McDavid lines. They will get chances, as all 3 get chances shorthanded it allows, but it takes pressure off the KBZ of carrying the scoring load and shutting down the top opponent. Nash/Hayes/Fast all play at the same pace, where Zuc is more of a faster pace play.

    The now Grabner/Miller/Zuc line, that has had almost everyone slotted on it may have found the group that sticks together. Miller sliding over for the removal of Desharnais from the line up created room for Grabner to go up. Moving Zuc “down” is to make this line more offensive, Zuc is still seeing the same amount of shifts and general ice time so its not really a demotion. Zuc also helps provide what Hayes did in possession value (actual puck on stick and play making not corsi) that the line of Grabner/Hayes/Miller line had. Hopefully this line provides the numbers that last years line provided and continues in the post season.

    The fourth line, Boo has earned his spot. Vesey will pop up and down based on injuries, in game line shuffles, or demotions. Would be surprised to see him make appearances for Butch, Fast, and Grabner. Carey/Desharnais will all be flipped based on opponent and play.

    Every lines job is to get offense and play defense, but If KBZ and Millers group do the scoring lifting, while Hayes line shuts down the other teams top line, they should be in a good position win. The only player whos not in a position to succeed is Vesey, however he hasnt siezed the opportunity to keep a seat in the top 9, but weve seen hes gets first crack at it during a shake up.

  • I’m a little surprised that Vesey hasn’t scored more. I realize he’s had time on the 4th line which limits him a bit but he’s on the 4th line because he hasn’t scored more. However I do like him and I think he’s working hard out there and becoming a more complete player. I still think the goals will come. I also think Zucc is better off on the 3rd line as long as the 2nd line is in good shape. I just think he has a better chance to score more and have an easier time of making plays when he’s on the 3rd line. He just seems to be over matched or struggles to get space to create scoring opportunities when he’s playing on the top lines. Maybe it’s just me but I don’t see that same spark or quick moves from Zucc nearly as much this year.

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