How Mika Zibanejad’s brilliant shooting and a dominant power play are elevating the Rangers
So here is Mika Zibanejad, blazing-hot the way he was during the final six weeks of the 2019-20 season, when he scored 23 goals in the 22 games immediately preceding the pandemic pause, turning into one of hockey’s ultimate shooters.
While scoring four goals in the Blueshirts’ opening four games of this season, the elite center has been credited with 24 shots on net, but that’s hardly the whole of it, with No. 93 unleashing 38 attempts, including 12 in the opener against Tampa Bay and 11 on Monday against Anaheim. By the way, he did it while matching up against the Lightning’s and Ducks’ respective first lines.
Zibanejad’s average of 17.16 shots per 60 minutes ranks third in the league behind Boston’s David Pastrnak and Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin among players with at least 50 minutes of ice time, per Natural Stat Trick. He is fourth in the NHL, trailing Pastrnak, Washington’s — or should I say, Putin’s? — Alex Ovechkin and Malkin with 27.17 attempts per 60. He leads the NHL in unblocked attempts per 60 with 24.31.
The power-play one-timer from the off-wing, left circle has become a weapon as lethal as those belonging to standard-setters Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos. The humming power play has five distinct components, but Zibanejad’s ability to nail down the hammer provides the finishing touch for this unit whose 33.3 percent success rate (5-for-15) does not quite reflect its dominance.
The Blueshirts have held the man-advantage for 23:54. The first unit consisting of Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, Vincent Trocheck and Adam Fox have been on for approximately 18:30. Subtract the late third-period power play against Minnesota in which head coach Gerard Gallant sent out the second and third units exclusively with a 7-3 lead, and PP1 has claimed 84 percent of the time.
This isn’t two years ago when an apparently entitled first unit simply refused to change. Now the first unit routinely maintains offensive-zone possession for 90 — or 120 — seconds at a time. The Rangers lead the NHL with 97.91 shots per 60 with the man-advantage. Trocheck adds another shooter to the mix in place of Ryan Strome, who was more inclined to pass the puck. There have been few genuine opportunities to get the second unit on the ice. That inevitably will change. Won’t it?
By the way, the Rangers scored 55 power-play goals last season. The first unit was on for all but four of them. The Blueshirts did not get a goal from a second-unit forward.
Quinn had the right idea
And now, who’s next? Well, the Sharks of San Jose coached by David Quinn coming to the Garden on Thursday, that’s who. Poetic justice, no, for it is Quinn who first designed the four-righty power-play monster on Thanksgiving Eve of 2019, sending Zibanejad, Panarin, Strome and Tony DeAngelo on with Kreider.
Questioned regularly about what at the time seemed an odd alignment, Dr. Frankenstein — er, Quinn — simply stated and restated, “They’re our five best [offensive] players.”
The more things change…
Two thumbs up for old coach video?
There was a fair amount of sloppiness throughout the 6-4 victory over Anaheim. The Blueshirts attempted too much east-west through neutral-zone traffic.
And east-west was the bane of Quinn’s existence for his three seasons behind the New York bench.
I wonder, a) whether the Blueshirts will play a video tribute to Quinn, as they should in recognizing the value of the coach’s shepherding the Kid Crew; and, b) what the MSG crowd reaction would be to it.
Save a thought for Igor’s stats
The Rangers have, though, allowed three goals or more in each of the past three games. A couple came during a third period of shinny in Minny and two more in the third period Monday when the game seemed well in hand against Anaheim.
Thing is, though, that Igor Shesterkin — whose spectacular right-doorstop save on Adam Henrique at the nine-minute mark of the third preserved a 5-3 lead — is taking a beating on his save percentage.
Indeed, Shesterkin’s save percentage is .905, a far cry from last year’s .935 and just slightly above the NHL average of .902. (That is down from last season’s average of .907. Hitters must be ahead of the pitchers). In fact, Shesterkin’s .818 save pct. on Monday in stopping 18 of 22 shots was the lowest in a victory of his 98-start career.
“I don’t want four goals going into our net every night, and our guys know that,” head coach Gerard Gallant said. “They feel bad, they take pride and they know goalies take pride in our goals-against, so we don’t need to give up those goals from careless plays in the neutral zone.”