The New York Rangers got off to a horrendous start to their season, but things are starting to go their way. With wins in back-to-back games over the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets, the Blueshirts are 8-8-0, and 6-4-0 over their last 10 games.
So after 16 games the Rangers are a .500 team, but are they finally adapting to Alain Vigneault's system? For starters, the Rangers had a tough time playing any sort of system early in the year because of injuries.
With a skeleton roster, AV was jumbling lines, and he was trying to find something that worked. It took some time, but Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello and Derek Stepan were put together, and the line has been amazing.
Kreider and Zuccarello are two players who were healthy scratched or demoted at one point or another, but right now the duo is playing with confidence and amazing chemistry. This has allowed AV to utilize Brad Richards and Carl Hagelin, and that duo has been successful since the 2011-12 season.
While the team is still missing Rick Nash, the roster is pretty healthy, and the continuity of players is allowing the Blueshirts to grow and develop chemistry.
In addition to the Rangers recent offensive production, the team has played better defense over the last nine games. Since playing the New Jersey Devils on Oct 19, the Rangers have allowed two goals or less per game.
That is something the team should be proud of, because earlier in the season they were getting lit up night after night. Part of the reason for the blowouts was the newness of a system that promoted offensive creativity, and that led to some costly breakdowns.
Fast forwarding to the present, the Rangers are still taking offensive chances, but the players are more cognizant of making sure that they are covering for their teammates. An ill-timed pinch can result in a goal, but it is less likely to happen when the other defenseman is looking out for his partner.
The above are just little snippets of what the Rangers are doing well, and it ties into the overreaching reason of why the team is playing better hockey. Sean Hartnett of CBS wrote about why the Rangers should keep the team together and he basically said that if it isn't broken, don't fix it.
The team has been together for around two months now, and there is familiarity. There was bound to be an adjustment from John Tortorella to Vigneault, and it didn't help that the Rangers started their season with a lengthy preseason and regular season schedule on the road out west.
Since returning to the Eastern Time zone, the Blueshirts have played respectable hockey, and they are finding ways to win. It isn't easy to win and score goals when you are missing a player of Rick Nash's stature, but this progress should instill confidence in the team.
If the Rangers can out gun the lethal offense of the Penguins without Nash, imagine what the team could be capable of with him in the lineup.
Through all of this, the Rangers bench boss deserves a lot of credit. He has pushed the right buttons when needed, and he has been firm but fair. He has benched players—like Zuccarello—when necessary, and he has rewarded them when they have responded.
He has gotten better as the season has gone on, and he should continue to grow as he gets a better understanding of his roster.
If this is the team the Rangers are going to be as they continue to get more comfortable under Vigneault, this could be a very exciting season for Blueshirt diehards.