As we get closer to the playoffs, the biggest question on everyone’s mind has shifted from “Will they make the playoffs?” to “Can this team make a run?” The answer changes based on the last game the Rangers played, and if you were to ask any fan yesterday, the answers would undoubtedly be negative.
But let’s get one thing out of the way: The Rangers are simply jockeying for position right now. They will make the playoffs. The argument can be made that they are actually better off sliding to the first wild card spot –they won’t, they will stay in the top three in the division– and move to the Atlantic, where they won’t have to face Washington until the Conference Finals. But either way, they are in the playoffs.
For all the skill on the team, there are some serious flaws that are getting exploited by better teams. The Penguins, sans Malkin, tore the Rangers a new one and made them look bad. The Isles torched the Rangers for three goals in the first five minutes. This isn’t the same team as the past four years.
Outside of the obvious issues on the blue line, of which this will be the only mention since I’ve beaten this horse to death Godfather style, there are other major concerns on this team. Even outside of roster construction, it just seems the work ethic isn’t there this year. Those previous Rangers teams didn’t relinquish leads and always fought hard when behind. This team is the polar opposite, as they give up leads with regularity and once they are down, they are out.
The argument can be made that the Rangers are just waiting for the playoffs to turn it up. I don’t buy it, though.
Then there’s the coaching. Outside of roster construction, which again we will get to, Alain Vigneault has had his methods questioned throughout the year. He hasn’t changed his team’s style of play to match the aging players he considers to be his top guys. His in-game forward rotation has been questionable at best. And his zone deployment has been called into question. Not a good trifecta.
Then there’s roster construction. Tanner Glass will likely play over much better and younger players. The top-nine has consistently featured Jesper Fast, who by all accounts is a great depth guy, but probably is best suited for a fourth line role. Fast is much like Brian Boyle. He can fill in temporarily in a top-nine role, but the team is at its best when he’s on the fourth line.
But it’s not all negative. The forwards, even with the Glass factor, are probably the deepest in the East outside of Washington. They are fast, skilled, and when they care, tenacious on the forecheck. All that leads to good things. Henrik Lundqvist isn’t human, and if he gets hot, the Rangers are almost unbeatable. October and November showed us just that.
In the playoffs, luck matters more than process. The Rangers have seen their luck spike and then crash all season long. If they hit a spike, they are a tough out. If they hit a crash, they are done. But all this considered, do you trust this team to turn it around in the playoffs?