Alain Vigneault couldn’t have managed the Rangers focus on either side of Game 3 any better. The media asked if his team was tired. He explained it’s asinine to suggest that. Then after they lost, he suggested that they were tired.
He didn’t want the media to plant that “tired” seed in his players head so he sloughed it off, and after a game where they outshot the Penguins 35-15 but fell behind 2-1 in the series he didn’t want his players thinking they’re the lesser of the two teams. That’s some nice mental management right there.
And while those comments may qualify as “management,” they’re justified. Research has shown that teams see a fairly substantial drop-off in their success rate in the second of half of back-to-backs. The Hockey News looked at this during the 2012 season, and found that teams playing the tail-end of the two games had a winning percentage of .480, while teams with at least a day of rest posted a .569.
Tyler Dellow has looked at this before as well, from 2005-2012. The chart below showing the regular season results of home teams in back-to-backs strengthens the point - the less rest, the lower the success. (The area in yellow has a large enough sample size to be significant):
And further, goalie performance drops substantially in the second half of back-to-backs.
Larry Brooks of the New York Post wrote today that complaining about the schedule is beneath Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, but I’m on the other side of that fence. It’s legitimate, and it helps justify to his team why they’ve struggled.
No team in the past 25 years - that’s going back to 1989, back when the Flames last won the Cup - has had to endure five playoff games in seven nights. New York went back-to-back in Game 6 and 7 versus the Flyers, had a day off, opened their series against the Penguins, had a day off, then played back-to-backs again, home and away. They’ve played seven in 11 nights, which also hasn’t happened in 25 years.
And remember, these are playoff games. Anybody who follows hockey will tell you there’s another gear players find for these battles. They’re more physically involved, and there’s no taking shifts off. I can’t imagine how their legs feel.
As a player, you do everything you can to have your legs feel as good as possible as soon as possible, particularly in the playoffs. That means you get off the ice and spin on the bike to get that lactic acid out of your legs, you stretch, you sit in the freezing, miserable cold tub for 10-12 minutes, you get some sustenance in you (ideally a 4:1 carb-to-protein ratio - chocolate milk!), and you get to bed as soon as your body allows, which is never very early. You do what you can.
But you can only get so much max performance out of your body, so it becomes a mental struggle as much as anything. You’re always trying to coax out that extra effort, as is your coach, but it’s just not the same as having that natural pop when you’re rested.
The Rangers may have outshot the heck out of the Penguins in Game 3, but it never felt like they had a chance to win after Sidney Crosby scored. Both teams being tired (the Pens less so) culminated in a relatively chanceless game - creating offense when sluggish isn’t easy - so when the Pens went up 1-0 they were able to sag defensively and basically challenge the Rangers to do something about it. Come at me, bro.
And while that resulted in the Rangers dominating the possession percentages, they were never all that threatening. After it was 2-0 thanks to a Jussi Jokinen breakaway conversion, it was just a matter of running out the clock.
New York is 100% allowed to complain about the hand they were dealt with the schedule. The worst part is, I’m not convinced they’re going to feel a whole lot better come Wednesday.
Playoffs aren’t a time for excuses and you have to “find a way” and all that, but this issue for the Rangers is a real one.