After an ill-advised training camp that sent them to Banff, Alberta in Canada, the Rangers struggled on their nine-game road trip to start the season, going 3-6 while giving up an abysmal 33 goals.
But things have started to turn around. The Rangers have won three straight and four out of their last five, starting to look like the team that many prognosticators—myself included—thought they would be.
How can we grade Alain Vigneault's performance in his first season in New York?
Read on to find out.
Alain Vigneault was brought in to open up the offense and lead to more goals.
That hasn't quite happened.
The Rangers score 1.9 goals per game, which is 27th in the league.
Last season, for example, the Rangers scored 2.62 goals per game, which was actually 15th in the league.
They have been shutout twice and have scored two goals or less seven times.
They have only scored more than three goals once, and that was Saturday night.
Look, Brad Richards is much improved, with five goals and 10 points. But Derek Stepan, who is tied for second on the team with three goals, accumulated those stats in one night. Chris Kreider, who is tied for third on the team with two goals, has only played in six games.
The Rangers have not gotten enough secondary scoring. Yes, Ryan Callahan and Rick Nash are out. But they need guys like Derick Brassard, J.T. Miller, Taylor Pyatt and Brian Boyle to pick it up.
There are promising signs. Chris Kreider looks like a different player, and the line of Kreider, Stepan and Mats Zuccarello has been utterly dominant. It is not unthinkable to see the Rangers have a drastically improved offense by season's end.
Until then, though, the offense is decent but not good enough. We'll give Vigneault a grade of C+.
There's been two seasons for the defense so far.
There's the unit that gave up 33 goals on their nine-game road trip, including 17 in three straight games.
Then there's the unit that has given up just nine goals in its last six games.
So, will the real defense please stand up?
My guess is that the defense of the last six games is the real defense. There was a lot going on in the early goings of the year—road trip, new coach and system. But this is a defense with so much talent. Ryan McDonagh is one of the best young defenseman in hockey and will play significant minutes for the U.S. in Sochi. Dan Girardi, despite some early-season struggles, is one of the toughest and most reliable defenseman in the league. Marc Staal is a star, and I think Team Canada would be foolish to leave him off the roster. Anton Stralman has been playing his best hockey of his career.
This is not to excuse the early part of the season. But we have to put it in its proper context. The preseason trip was ill-advised, despite its charitable intentions, and the nine-game road trip didn't help either.
We need to take a wait-and-see approach. But there is enough improvement in the last six games to think that they have figured it out.
It was a disastrous start to the season. But things are looking up. We'll give Vigneault a grade of a D+, but with the understanding that grade will likely be drastically different at the Olympic break.
The Rangers may actually have a power play.
The Rangers have converted 20.9 percent of their chances, which is 12th in the league.
Last season, by comparison, the Rangers scored on 15.7 percent of their chances. In the postseason, they converted just 9.1 percent.
Derek Stepan has seven power-play points, and the team has scored on four of its opportunities in the last three games.
There's more movement, and the passes are generally crisper. Chris Kreider has been great in front of the net, screening goaltenders and cleaning up rebounds. Brad Richards has been excellent on the point.
By league standards, they are just average. But considering that the power play was a main reason that John Tortorella was fired, any improvement is welcome.
As for the penalty kill, it's not terrible. They are ranked 15th in the league, killing off the penalty 81.6 percent of the time.
Last season, they killed off the penalty 81.1 percent of the time, so not much has changed. They did keep the Washington Capitals, who have the fourth-ranked power play, off the board and have given up just one power-play goal in their last three games.
They may not reach the level that saw them kill 86.2 percent of penalties in 2011-12, which was good for fifth in the league. But given that their top penalty-killer, Ryan Callahan, has only played in five games, not all is bad.
Vigneault gets a grade of B- on this front.
So the Rangers are 6-7, fourth in the Metropolitan Division and ninth in the Eastern Conference.
Even after the horrible start, the Rangers are still in it.
They are just two points behind the Washington Capitals, and they have a game in hand.
But they responded with a dominating 2-0 win over the Washington Capitals and have now won three straight.
He's done that without Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan. He's done that with Cam Talbot making four starts in net.
There's a reason that Vigneault received such a big contract. He's a good coach. Putting together Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello was a stroke of genius.
Yes, the start was awful. But things are really looking up. The Rangers are still in it. A lot of that has to do with Vigneault.
Overall grade: B.