Since the New York Rangers rattled off win after win starting in late December, fans and experts have been touting the team as Stanley Cup favorites. While the Rangers are definitely among the favorites to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup, there are many factors that could serve as road blocks in the teams quest.
Let's take a look at them:
Regression - Last season the Rangers were fancy stat darlings, finishing in the top of the league in the main statistical categories and gaining steam as a darkhorse cup favorite. This season the Rangers are a middling possession team, but are being boasted as favorites thanks to ridiculous goaltending and the ability to pull out difficult victories. Depending on your view of the value of the statistics, you may understand the Rangers to be out performing their abilities, something that will likely eventually result in regression. Personally, I prefer a combination of the use of the advanced statistics and the eye test, which shows a team that does not have the puck as much as one would like, but also plays to the competition's style and avoids the major mistakes that haunt teams. The Rangers PDO is also off the charts, showing that the team has been incredibly lucky, and luck is bound to run out eventually. Will the playoffs be when that luck runs out?
Luck - Building upon the luck factor, it must be understood that sports are generally built on a combination of talent and luck, and that the best team does not always win. Say the Rangers play a series called terribly by the referees, or half the team is injured in game one, or even facing a goaltender playing out of his mind for a series. In a seven game series luck can control the outcome. The Rangers must make sure they outplay their opponents, but also that they avoid letting luck steer the team into an early off-season.
Opponents - The most obvious of the factors, the Rangers could play a team simply better than them. Currently I would say the only team better than the Rangers in the East are the Tampa Bay Lightning, but if the Rangers do make it back to the Cup they will likely have to play one of the West giants. Can the Rangers beat the Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, or St. Louis Blues in a seven game series? Perhaps, but by no means would the Rangers be the favorites.
The Lightning are similar to the Boston Bruins last year, who were to be avoided at all costs. If the Lightning are knocked out in their own bracket the Rangers stand a great chance of being able to knock off the rest of the East, but the Lightning have superior offensive and defensive depth, as well as advanced statistics backing them up.
Fatigue - The majority of the Rangers roster has played more games over the past year than any team other than the Los Angeles Kings. While Henrik Lundqvist will be rested after his stretch on the injured reserve, the rest of the team could slow down moving forward. Considering Kevin Hayes' already playing more games than in a typical college season and players like Martin St. Louis and Dan Boyle are on the wrong side of 35 years old, there is some reason for concern. St. Louis already looked fatigued in early March, while it remains to be seen what the impact is on Boyle. Just remembering Brad Richards' later postseason rounds performance last year gives the average hockey fan nightmares, so the team must hope that does not happen to any players this postseason.
Tanner Glass and Deployment - The Rangers will likely be going with four lefties and two righties in the playoffs. Under no circumstances can that mean increased playing time for Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein over Ryan McDonagh. Tanner Glass cannot enter the lineup after a loss for "toughness" and "a spark." If Alain Vigneault does not play his cards right, the Rangers will be sent home by a team with a coach that did.
Simply put, the team needs J.T. Miller and James Sheppard in the lineup to win. Tanner Glass is not only a liability when he's on the ice, but he is also a liability in that he cannot be on the ice often, which leads to other players taking more shifts, tiring out earlier, and overall team fatigue increasing. In addition, Vigneault cannot (but may try to) count on his fourth line in important situations with Glass on it, which again puts the other lines in a difficult spot and creates a worse team overall.
Kevin Power - Recently there has been a fun trend on Rangers twitter where we simulate The Hunger Games on this website. The most surprising and consistent result is Dan Boyle or Kevin Power winning.
Listen, Kevin is ruthless and should be a major concern. Just take a look at this series of events. Martin St. Louis helps keep Kevin alive, and how does he repay him?
Kevin kills him, of course. If the Rangers want to make it past the first round with enough players alive to not forfeit, Kevin must be stopped.
Overall, I do feel this team is a strong contender to not only make, but win the Stanley Cup. That being said, I do not feel this team is invincible or unstoppable like many do, and the playoffs should be a wild ride rather than any team simply coasting their way through. Hopefully in June we are celebrating and the Rangers will have gotten past all of the challenges listed above.