The New York Rangers are off to a decent 5-3-2 start to the season even though they have not played to their potential yet. They have lost a few skilled forwards to injuries, their defensemen have made some uncharacteristic mistakes, and backup goalie Jaroslav Halak has gotten off to a rough start. However, a few of the team’s star players have stepped up as Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin are both off to a great start and they have already come through with some clutch plays late in games.
Last season Zibanejad played very well, finishing with 29 goals and 52 assists in 81 games, but he took his game to another level in the postseason. He repeatedly scored on slap shots, won battles for the puck, and made slick passes to set up his linemates. He had 10 goals and 14 assists in 20 playoff games.
Early this season, Zibanejad’s timing looks slightly off on his slap shot but he has still found ways to score. In the season opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning, he scored a gorgeous shorthanded goal on the backhand and then scored the game-winning goal on a power play in the third period.
Zibanejad has excelled on special teams, and already has five goals and three assists on the power play. One of those came on a deflection and a few have come on rebounds as he has gotten to the front of the net. He scored a clutch power-play goal off a touch pass from Chris Kreider late in the third period in the Rangers’ 3-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Oct. 30.
Additionally, Zibanejad has played very well on the penalty kill, using his reach to get into passing lanes and deflect shots. He also has shown excellent chemistry with Kreider and they have both used their strength and speed to create some scoring chances while shorthanded.
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The Rangers can rely on Zibanejad in all situations and he is off to a very strong start in all aspects of the game. He already has six goals and six assists in 10 games and he has also won 53.7 percent of his faceoffs.
Like Zibanejad, Panarin had a very strong regular season in 2021-22 and finished with 22 goals and 74 assists in 75 games. However, he did not play as well in the postseason. He scored a dramatic overtime goal in Game 7 of the Rangers’ first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins but he only had six goals and 10 assists in 20 playoff games.
Panarin has responded with an excellent start to this season. He has already shown his great vision, as he has repeatedly held on to the puck and made difficult passes look easy to set up his teammates. He has done a very good job at the point on New York’s top power-play unit and has made some beautiful cross-ice passes. So far, he has one goal and seven assists on the man advantage.
Additionally, Panarin’s line, which also includes Vincent Trocheck and Alexis Lafreniere, is off to a strong start and already has combined for eight goals at even strength (Panarin has four of them). In the Rangers’ victory over the Coyotes, he set up Lafreniere for the first goal of the game, and then with the team trailing 2-1, he outworked an opposing defenseman and scored the game-tying goal.
Panarin already has two four-point games this season (one in a 7-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Oct. 13 and another in a 6-4 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 17). He has five goals and 11 assists in 10 games.
For the Rangers Moving Forward
The Rangers have a tough stretch of games against the Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, and New York Islanders coming up. They have looked shaky early in the season but they still have a decent record in large part due to the strong performances by Zibanejad and Panarin. The impressive play of both stars is a great sign for the Blueshirts as they will rely heavily on both of them to help the team make it back to the postseason.