- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault is not wasting time beating around the bush.
He’s already told his team that .500 hockey is not going to cut it, and it’s hard to be more blunt than that.
Still, even after a night’s rest to digest the Rangers’ latest disappointment -- a 5-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets Monday night that left the team 14-14-0 -- he delivered another message to his wayward club.
Vigneault called out the team, namely the Rangers’ core players, and said it was time for them to “put it together.”
“If we are going to get some traction and get past that .500 level we need our top players to play consistently like top players,” Vigneault said Tuesday, following the team’s intense, up-tempo practice. “We need that core group, the leaders of this room to perform accordingly. And we have not done that on a consistent basis.”
Don’t assume anyone is safe from Vigneault’s scrutiny. Ryan Callahan, Brad Richards, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Henrik Lundqvist? No one seems to be getting a free pass here. As Vigneault not-so-subtly noted Monday, the Jets entered Monday’s match with three different players -- Bryan Little Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd -- who had more points than the Rangers top producer, Brad Richards.
That’s not good enough for the Rangers, who are in 25th place with a mere 2.21 goals per game.
Vigneault has already shown he is not averse to shaking things up. He went with Cam Talbot over Henrik Lundqvist in goal for the second straight start against Winnipeg. He demoted Derick Brassard to the fourth line after the young center’s ill-advised giveaway that cost the Rangers a goal. And it appears that he is at least considering sitting Benoit Pouliot in favor of Taylor Pyatt.
Unfortunately, there are not a ton of players down in Hartford who can come up and compete for some playing time -- JT Miller clearly needs some extra seasoning, Danny Kristo is currently injured -- but it doesn’t sound as if he's far away from taking drastic measures.
Regardless of the situation, it stands to reason that Vigneault will return to Lundqvist Thursday against the Sabres. It hasn’t been a stellar season for the former Vezina Trophy winner, and Vigneault has not been deferential to “the King.” The coach still wants to see something more from Lundqvist, and the same thing applies to the rest of his charges.
“Hank’s getting more than a decent share of games to find his rhythm. Him, just like our other top guys that are getting the ice time that players need to find a groove, to find the timing, to find execution,” Vigneault said. “They need to put it together and they need to put it together consistently.”
Vigneault said the coaching staff and management are also feeling the heat to perform as the mediocrity continues.
"I feel like we're all being tested right now," he said.