I think most Rangers fans would tell you that this season has been a pleasant suprise. A core group of young players, coupled with the suprising effort of veterans who were not expected to contribute much (if even make the team) has propelled the team to the best road record in the NHL and a fairly comfortable playoff position. The group has become younger, while often maligned GM Glen Sather has managed to dispose himself of 3 horrific contracts (Gomez, Redden, and Roszival) in order to gain much needed cap flexability.
That being said, some disturbing shadows hover over the team. First and foremost, the two highest paid forwards (Gaborik and Drury) have offered almost nothing over the past month, and Henrik Lundqvist has continued to mix stellar play coupled with the occasional brutally soft goal at the most inopportune time. Up front, Gaborik does not appear to have recovered from the combination of groin and shoulder injuries. He avoids contact. He doesn't exhibit his explosive skating stride often, and even though he has put himself in position for some glorious chances his shot doesn't have the "eyes" and snap that it had last year. I can't think how many shots he has had from the slot or the circles that I thought to myself "last year, that is a goal," but this year the goalie stops it.
Drury is a concern as well. While still exhibiting hustle and expertise on faceoffs and the PK, Drury has been completely inept in the offensive zone. He seems incapable of carrying the puck on his stick even for one stride, and he rarely finds himself in position to score. His hands have dissappeared in an alarming manner, and, dispite his value to the team as a PK specialist and a leader, his contract has become an albatross and Glen Sather is probably exploring outside the box methods for getting out of Drury's cap hit.
If more help doesn't arrive, the Rangers have concerns. You can see Brian Boyle wearing down, as he has been a step behind the play over the last several games. Dubinsky had a great game last night, but he looks skinny and haggard. More strain will be put on Staal, Girardi, Emminger, and Sauer on the back end, all of whom seemed a step behind the play last night. Stepan is going to hit a long rough spot at some point and still is weak on the puck, and Zuccarello has high skills, but can't seem to win battles along the wall. Wolski is a crap shoot, and who knows how effective Ryan Callahan and Vinny Prospal will be when they return from injury.
Moving to goal, Lundqvist is the ultimate x-factor. Hot playoff goaltending coupled with clutch goal scoring can carry a lesser team to playoff glory, but Lundqvist (while playing well) was ultimately bested in his head to head matchups with Ryan Miller, Marc Andre Fleury, and Semeyeon Varlanmov in the playoffs. While he often does not receive much offensive support, at least 75% of his losses this year have come on momentum draining incredibley soft goals. In years past, Lundqvist's glove hand seemed to slow in January and February, but this year, many of these goals have come high stick side. With Biron available to provide Lundqvist rest and a challenge, the King must figure out a way to live up to his nickname without slipping back into his "Mr. Softy" robe from time to time.
The ultimate success or failure of this team is dependant on one thing and one thing only. The three highest paid players on the team (Lundqvist, Gaborik, and Drury) must play like stars, and the forwards must start scoring goals