One of the most frustrating aspects of John Tortorella’s tenure as head coach of the Rangers was his absolute refusal to roll four lines and six defensemen in the playoffs.
He attempted to ride his horses to victory, but ultimately just rode them into the ground while the Rangers postseason opponents took advantage of Tortorella’s overuse of key players as the fourth line of the Devils in 2012 and the Bruins in 2013 buried the Blueshirts.
Now, the Rangers are led by a head coach who understands the importance of depth and keeping his players fresh in the playoffs…
“Any team that has had success in the NHL the last couple of years has been a four line team,” Alain Vigneault noted after practice on Friday. “You have to be able to spread the minutes out. If you want to play a good-tempo game … it seems to me, the teams that have had success on a pretty regular basis — I’m thinking about the Bruins right now — they’re able to throw four lines on the ice on a regular basis.”
Under Tortorella, the fourth line seemingly averaged five minutes a game in the postseason. Thursday night against the Flyers, the Rangers current fourth line averaged 10:30 of ice time.
And it’s not just the forwards. The fewest minutes doled out to a defenseman by Vigneault in Game 1 was 16:06 to Kevin Klein. Remember when Stu Bickel was getting 30 seconds a night in the postseason in 2012?
…the Rangers fourth line is not just eating up minutes so the top nine can get some extra rest, they’re a legit weapon on the ice. In Game 1, they possessed the puck, provided some offense and absolutely shutdown the Flyers top line.
…as we learned with Tortorella, the best way to burn out your team in the postseason is by only playing 2/3 of your lineup. The playoffs are too much of a grind not to use your full compliment of players, which is thankfully something Vigneault is fully aware of.
…now, the decision to give his fourth line crucial minutes has been made easy for AV because of their impressive play. There’s very few head coaches in the playoffs who feel just as comfortable with the bottom three on the ice as the top three, but it’s a luxury the Rangers coach has at his full disposal.
…and on defense, the Klein trade continues to loom large as there’s no Del Zotto mind-numbing miscues for Vigneault to be concerned about with this defensive corps. And even if there was the occasional gaffe, AV is smart enough to not completely abandon the guy in the middle of a playoff game.