Rangers took big step forward, but a lot more work needs done

From a big picture perspective the 2021-22 New York Rangers season was a pretty significant success.

They made the playoffs for the first time in four years (not counting the 2019-20 play-in round), finished with one of the best regular season records in franchise history, watched as some key young players improved, and reached the Eastern Conference Finals by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes in the first two rounds.

Each series win was highlighted by the Rangers overcoming two-game (3-1 and 2-0) deficits. They found ways to get it done against the odds.

The fact they lost in the conference finals to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games (losing four in a row to end the series) does not take away from what was accomplished this season. For one, it was a great year and anytime you are one of the last four teams standing that should be seen as a success. 

Also because the Lightning are a machine and stomp out the playoff hopes of everybody they play. Losing to them is not a sign of weakness or a failure.

But for as successful as the season was, the Rangers can not be content with that progress. They also can not just assume they will be back in this spot next season or that continued progress is a guarantee.

They still have a lot of work to do as an organization, and they were probably very fortunate to get as far as they did this season given the way they played.

They have to be aware of that, and if they choose to ignore it that progress will almost certainly come to a grinding halt in the seasons ahead.

Their playoff success was driven almost entirely by a lethal power play unit that got hot at the right time, and a magnificent season-long performance from Igor Shesterkin in goal. The latter point was the biggest factor in their success as he masked a lot of flaws that still exist on this young and improving team.

A lot of those flaws exist during 5-on-5 play and defensively. During the regular season the Rangers were last among the 16 playoff teams in most 5-on-5 metrics, from scoring chances, to expected goal share, to shots and chances against, while they were 12th among the playoff teams in 5-on-5 goal differential.

Goalies and special teams are important, but you can not always consistently count on those areas to be there every night.