After the New York Rangers comprehensive triumph over the New York Islanders on Friday, one thing has made itself perspicuous: The limitless potential of this group lives in the shadow of their own inexperience.
One night after an abysmal display that made the Rangers look like boys to men in comparison to the Pittsburgh Penguins, this group claps back with premier execution to snap a seasoned contender’s five-game home winning streak.
That seems to be the theme of the year—the perplexity that is a team that unleashes an unanswered 15-goal explosion on the Philadelphia Flyers in 80:42 minutes of hockey and subsequently then couldn’t beat a piteous Buffalo Sabres team in regulation. A top-10 team in both goals for (3.25) and goals against (2.68) per game that is five points out of the playoffs. A top-5 penalty-killing team with a mediocre power play that has 13 one-goal losses in 40 games played.
This imbalanced equation screams the growing pains of what will be an elite hockey team for the foreseeable future. The Rangers are lightning in a bottle. Their volatility is due in part to their inexperience (for the most part). But do you want to know what could really aid this problem moving forward?
Making the playoffs.
While last year’s unprecedented playoff format allowed an even more underdeveloped version of themselves a bid into a “playoff environment,” squeaking into the big dance this year could give monumental confidence to this budding lineup.
Draft position is obviously no longer a priority when you wield the undoubted best pool of prospects in the NHL. The Rangers have gotten their fire sale trade deadlines out of their systems, too. So, what is there to lose in making a push? The odds are certainly against them as the Boston Bruins have a five point lead with three games at hand, but crazier things have happened.
Everyone’s mindset is all about grooming the youth. Well, nothing could expedite that more than playoff hockey. Whether you like David Quinn’s lines or not, a head-to-head best-of-seven series could only throw everyone into the water and force them to swim.
If the argument is that the Rangers would get manhandled and wouldn’t have a real chance at a run, so why bother getting hopes high to make it? Then I’d question that person’s motive for supporting the team. This isn’t the NBA. The best regular season team in league history (Tampa Bay Lightning) got swept in the first round by a wild card (Columbus Blue Jackets) only two years ago. The 16th seed Los Angeles Kings mowed down the field in 2012 to win the Stanley Cup. While not likely, it’s possible. And this team has proved it can play up with experienced teams when they’re clicking.
Worse comes to worst? The Rangers get shown up in the first round. Fine. But it makes this whole seesaw of a season that much more validated in the timeline of their evolution and gives Adam Fox, Alexis Lafrenière, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov, K’Andre Miller, and company a jump start in experiencing “backs to the wall” hockey.
This year’s playoffs will be at its most interesting stage once the Conference Finals commence. When the same eight teams play each other for 56 games, then for two rounds of playoffs, a median level of competition forms. Each of these four divisions are living in their own universe without any idea of what else is out there. So, once an East and North or West and Central team should encounter after this elongated segregation, who knows what that chemistry will bring?
Ranking the teams within these four divisions together on a list of 31 is comparing apples to oranges. For all we know, the bar in the East division is set light years ahead of the other three right now. Or maybe it’s way lower… The point is that nobody really knows how the Rangers fair amongst the entire NHL in this year’s strange format. We know how they fair against seven other specific teams and they’ve played valiantly amongst them.
Headlines such as Fox’s “Brian Leetch-like” Norris candidacy, another Hart-worthy year for Artemi Panarin, and Igor Shersterkin assuming a steady presence are testaments to what this team is capable of right now.