The New York Rangers have played 20 games so far this NHL season. They are 10-10-0, and sit third in the Metropolitan Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference. So far, it has felt like a tale of two seasons.
They went 3-6-0 in their first nine games during a long and grueling road trip, due to the final phase of renovations at Madison Square Garden. They emerged from that trip looking like one of the worst teams in the league. Since then, they are 7-4-0, and are a much improved team offensively, defensively and in net. Despite this, there is still a long way to go before they can consider themselves a contender for the Stanley Cup.
So far, the Rangers have gone through the kind of adversity that most teams endure in an entire season. They lost their best forward, Rick Nash, and captain Ryan Callahan to injuries. They did not have Carl Hagelin through their first 10 games, they got mediocre performances from two of their top players, Henrik Lundqvist and Derek Stepan during the road trip, and they have gotten little to nothing from Michael Del Zotto, Derick Brassard, Benoit Pouliot and Taylor Pyatt. In their first seven games of the season, their goal differential was a disturbing -18. Their problems scoring goals are well-documented, and losing Nash to a concussion the third game of the season certainly didn’t help.
Through it all, the Rangers have survived. Following the road trip, the Rangers rediscovered their defensive prowess and Lundqvist found his game. They appear to have forged chemistry and are moving toward an identity under new head coach Alain Vigneault. On the player front, they appear to have found a keeper in backup goaltender Cam Talbot. Brad Richards has played brilliantly this season, following the worst season of his career, and is the team’s leading scorer. Top prospect Chris Kreider has finally become a well-rounded NHL player, and Ryan McDonagh has found himself after a slow start. Most importantly, the power play is improved, despite recent struggles.
There have been a myriad of ups and downs through only 20 games. At the same time, the team’s weakness and strengths have all come to the forefront at once. Although the majority of weaknesses that befell this team early in the season have been addressed, the fatal flaw in this team must be addressed in the near future. If they intend to go deep in the playoffs this season, they need to address their scoring woes, and even add a little toughness via trade.
Through 20 games, the Rangers have proved that they are a playoff-worthy team, but they are far from a Cup-worthy team. However, 62 games remain, so there is plenty of time to address their issues. They took the step of improving from a bottom-feeder to a good team, and we’ll see if they get closer to being a great team in their next 20 games.