5 Factors That Will Make or Break the New York Rangers' Postseason Hopes
As the Philadelphia Flyers proved on April 16, teams relish the opportunity to interfere with a division or conference rival’s plan to reach the postseason, even if they themselves have none.
Furthermore, the lesser team in these particular encounters can be difficult to play against because of the possibility that they play with a reckless abandon. Their season is drawing to a close, and they may be more willing to take certain risks a team in the Rangers’ position would not consider.
So these late-season matchups are nothing to scoff at. If the Rangers think they can come out like they did against Philadelphia in their remaining games, then they should just call it a season now.
The Blueshirts are a team filled with talent from top to bottom, and if they can put together five 60-minute performances, they’ll find themselves in a playoff position.
At this point that seems like a lot to ask for, though. Inconsistency will epitomize this season for years to come, even if they end up making the playoffs.
So what exactly will make or break the Rangers’ playoff hopes? A few things. After the jump we’ll take a look at the five most important factors. They range from particular players to specific deficiencies that require attention, and if they’re not addressed before April 27, the Rangers will be on the outside looking in.
It’s no secret Brad Richards is having an off year.
And for the sake of the team, it’d better be. Hopefully next year Richards will be able to return to form with a proper training camp and all that.
But the fact is Richards’ annual cap hit is $6,666,667, and when you eat up that much of a team’s payroll, you’d better be producing.
But he hasn't. Through 41 games Richards has just 25 points. He’s earning a first-line center’s salary, but he’s played more like a second- or third-liner for most of the year.
Is it too much to ask of a player who has put up 20-plus goals and 40-plus assists in each of his previous three seasons to do something productive in the offensive zone without giving the puck away? I think we can all agree that it’s not.
He’s a major reason the Rangers were 27th in the league in goals-for before play on Thursday night. Not only is he not scoring goals on his own, but his overall lack of creative input has hurt his linemates. When he can’t get them the puck in scoring positions, they too are going to score less.
As a player the Rangers rely on for offense, they’ll need Richards to earn his salary in the final five games if they’re to make the playoffs. He is, after all, supposed to be their top-line centerman.
I’d say now is a good time for him to start playing that way.
Or should we call it the power-less play?
I’m honestly sick of writing about it because it’s getting ridiculous. How can a team this talented, with a coach who’s instructed world-class players his entire career, not have even a decent power play?
Where would this team be in the standings if they had even a competent power play? At least a spot or two higher.
It’s becoming the reason they lose games. On April 16 in Philadelphia, the Rangers lose 3-2, and the power play goes 0-5.
This is a special-teams league. Not only does scoring on the power play have a direct effect on the outcome of a game, but failing to do so consistently, or at a specific point in a game, can shift momentum to the opposition.
With five games left, they’re going to have to score at least two big power play goals at key points. Their failure to do so could be the death of them.
It always puzzles me when the Rangers hit the ice for the start of a game and it looks like they just woke up from their pregame naps.
This team has, for most of the season, lacked a sense of urgency. To win in the NHL, you need to be ready from the outset. A strong start will allow a team to force their opponent to play their game, or even play catch-up if an early goal is scored.
Big surprise: The Rangers have been a better team this year when they've scored first, and doing so in the final five will be crucial to their success.
Poor starts usually come down to a lack of preparation. They’re a talented team; there’s no reason they should look like a fish out of water once they take the ice. Maybe some guys still aren't sure what coach John Tortorella wants from them.
Torts must quickly get everyone on, or close to, the same page so that they can start implementing their game from the start.
If he feels a player is being lethargic or lacking a certain level of urgency, then that player needs to sit. If they can’t motivate themselves to come out flying, then he has to.
One thing the Rangers can do to improve their starts is to forecheck as soon as the puck is dropped.
Tortorella has instilled a system in New York that relies on his team to get the puck deep, suffocate the opposition’s defensemen and create offensive opportunities beneath the goal line. It’s a team effort, and the defensemen are relied upon to pinch and create turnovers if the opposition can evade the first wave of attacks.
When the Rangers play this way, they’re one of the best teams in the league. It brought them success last year, and it has worked this season when executed to its fullest.
But yet again, consistency has eluded them in this department as well. One night they’re forechecking an opponent into the ice, and the next they can’t even get the puck into the zone.
I hope it’s as frustrating for them to play through as it is for us to watch.
What amazes me is that forechecking is not difficult, and Tortorella’s system is not rocket science. The Rangers have a quick and intelligent hockey team. Why can’t they reach the red line, dump the puck in and apply sufficient pressure on a regular basis?
There’s much debate over whether or not the Rangers should be playing this way, but that shouldn't be anyone’s thought process with five games left. Play within the system the coach has instilled, and do it well.
The Rangers go as Henrik Lundqvist does.
That has been the mantra of this hockey club since The King’s inaugural NHL season in 2005-06. It’s scary to think of where they may have finished in years past without him.
This year is no different.
Over the last 20 games, Lundqvist has only allowed more than three goals once. After a very un-Kinglike start, Lundqvist has found his game and been on a personal mission to once again carry this team to the playoffs for the past two months.
Lundqvist is the only factor on this list that would not be classified as a deficiency or a problem. He’s on here because he is always going to be the team’s biggest factor.
He doesn't need to improve his game, because he’s already on the top of it. All the Rangers need from Lundqvist is for him to keep it up. That may be a lot to ask for from most keepers in the league, but it’s not asking too much from The King.
He does, after all, expect nothing short of perfection.
Lundqvist is the team’s ace in the hole, their secret weapon and their savior. Without him they will lose, and lose badly.
He’ll have to steal at least one more game this season, but it’s that steady, consistent play of his that the Rangers are going to need every single night if they’re to clinch a playoff berth.