NEW YORK – From his use of advanced statistics, to his use of a “sleep doctor,” Alain Vigneault will leave no stone unturned in the hunt for offense, wins, and the Stanley Cup.
John Tortorella, who was fired from the job May 29, watched plenty of tape, did plenty of research, and was prepared for every game he coached behind the bench. And, while he used some of the advanced statistics Vigneault says he’ll use, Alain is believed to be much more inclined to use those advanced statistics to formulate his game plan.
One such advanced, new-age stat is Corsi, which attempts to measure how much puck possession a team is getting at even strength. One way Vigneault will attempt to enhance his team’s scoring chances is by doing something Tortorella did frequently – making sure his top-line forwards are on the ice for as many offensive-zone faceoffs as possible.
“If what I think I have right now is right, I will use my offensive players more in the offensive zone,” Vigneault said during Friday’s press conference announcing him as the 35th coach in franchise history. “It’s the right place for them to start; it gives them more opportunity to have success.”
Generally speaking, John Tortorella’s system was focused on strong defensive hockey, with turn-and-burn transition offense initiating after opposition turnovers. Otherwise, it was dump-and-chase, battle along the boards, and hope to possess the puck that way.
Vigneault, though, isn’t going to wait for his opposition to make a mistake. He doesn’t want his top players expending energy on the wall. He wants immediate puck possession, and he wants his team to push the tempo offensively – not just on the forecheck.
“You look at our defense-corps, you’ve got real good balance,” Vigneault said. “I think you’ve got potential there to join the rush a little more, jump up in the attack, make a two-on-two into a three-on-two if that opportunity is there. Or a three-on-three to a four-on-three. I think that skill level seems to be in at some level. Up front, I believe there’s a potential to have two real solid scoring lines. In talking with [Rangers GM] Glen [Sather], he feels we got a couple of good young kids that are close that are going to prove if they’re NHL-bound with training camp and our exhibition games.”
It’s also quite likely fans and media will have more information with Vigneault in front of the microphones and notepads. In talking to the media after his press conference, he assured writers he will be more forthcoming than the notoriously short-fused Tortorella was with the press.
“[I] understand my responsibility is to the players, the organization, the fans, and to you. I know, at some point in time, you’re going to write things about me that might not be as positive as they can be, but I respect that,” Vigneault said. “Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion. If you would ask the people I worked with media-wise in Vancouver, I respected that part. I understand your job isn’t the easiest job in the world, I’ll try to do my best to be as accommodating as I can, but at the same time you have to understand I have a responsibility to the players and the organization.”
As for the Rangers beleaguered power play, Vigneault said it’s something he knows the team has to work through.
“I haven’t looked at any of the games real closely, but it’s an area that … a lot of people have made aware to me is an issue. So we’re going to work on it, don’t worry,” Vigneault said, drawing a laugh from the assembled media.
“You have to have skill,” Vigneault said when asked what makes a successful power play. “In theory, I believe you have to have – whether it’s two right-handed shots and three left-handed shots, or three lefts and two rights. Otherwise, one of our issues we had in Vancouver last year was, with all our injuries to our personnel, we ended up with five left-handed shots. Too easy to cover lanes, too easy to block shots, too easy to defend that power play. When you have those one-touch passing options, it makes it a lot more challenging for the opposition.”
The Rangers power play, which ended the 2013 postseason at 9.1%, seemed to be mired in a slump that was just as prevalent mentally as it was physically. Vigneault agreed it can sometimes be just as big a battle in the mind than in the body.
“Power play is X’s and O’s, but it’s also hard work,” Vigneault said. “You know the penalty killers are going to work hard. They’re shorthanded, they’re going to go the extra mile to try to kill the penalty and give their team momentum. On the power play, hard work, moving the puck, getting loose pucks, getting to areas of the ice where you can outnumber the opposition is huge.”
Vigneault, unlike Tortorella when he was hired in February 2009, said he wanted to watch video of his new team before meeting the squad. When Tortorella was hired and spoke with the media before his first practice, he had told writers he did not want to form opinions of his new players until he had met them. Vigneault already has a team-issued computer with all 12 playoff games the team played.
“If you have room to make a play, make a play,” Vigneault said of his general philosophy. “If you have space and time to carry the puck, carry the puck. If the other team’s got the gap on you, and they’re playing you tight, then you have to make the high-percentage play and chip it behind. I really believe in playing the right way both offensively and defensively.”
Vigneault explained he doesn’t just use advanced metrics on the ice. He uses them in the hotel room, too. In Vancouver, where he coached for the last seven seasons before being fired on May 22, he had a “sleep doctor” under his employ, who inputted information into a database to determine the best times to travel. Vigneault said the team often traveled home the day after a game instead of same-night, which is the norm throughout the NHL.
Vigneault said the optimal amount of sleep is eight hours, and by ensuring his players were sleeping properly, the Canucks had the third-most wins on the road since the 2006-2007 season.
“[I’m] confident that I’m a better coach now than when I started in Vancouver, confident that I was a better coach in Vancouver than when I started in Montreal,” Vigneault said. “That experience that I’ve learned should help us get close to our goal, and our goal is to win the Stanley Cup.”