For nearly five seasons, the Capitals waged countless battles against John Tortorella’s Rangers, a hard-nosed unit that put defense and self-sacrifice above all else.
New York, however, grew tired of Tortorella’s abrasive approach, firing him in May and hiring former Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault in his place. On Wednesday night, the Capitals will get their first look at Vigneault’s up-tempo, offense-friendly system.
“I’m excited to see what their new style is like,” Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said. “It’s always really frustrating playing against them because as D, you can never get a puck through.”
Compared to Tortorella’s style of play, Vigneault’s relies less on blocking shots and jamming passing lines and more on creating odd-man opportunities by having the defensemen join the rush. In theory, it is designed to provide New York’s offensive players with freedom they did not have previously.
The Rangers’ transition is not without its growing pains. They enter Wednesday’s game — the sixth in a season-opening nine-game road trip — at 1-4-0, allowing a league-high five goals per game, while scoring just 1.8 per game, tied for third-fewest.
It is an adjustment that the Capitals are all too familiar with, having gone through a similar change last season under Adam Oates.
“On paper, they’ve got a great team and they should be able to figure it out and string a few more wins together,” Alzner said. “There’s something internally or there’s something — maybe they know they have a good team and they’re just kind of waiting for it to come, and we know what it’s like. It’s very frustrating.”
Alzner said Tuesday that the Rangers might still have Tortorella’s message ingrained in them, so while he may be gone, their industrious mentality endures.
“We know that they work hard,” Caps defenseman Mike Green said. “I know the players over there. … They all work hard and are competitors. If that’s what they have, they’re still going to play good hockey.”