The New York Rangers clinched their first postseason berth in five years with a 5-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night. One of the keys to the victory, as well as New York’s recent success, is the excellent play of star-winger Artemi Panarin. While he has had a great season, he has taken his game to another level recently and he has quickly formed chemistry with linemates Ryan Strome and Andrew Copp.
Panarin’s Play Earlier This Season
Though Panarin had a lot of points early in the season, most of them came on the power play. As a team, the Blueshirts struggled to create scoring opportunities at even strength, but their excellent power play and the stellar play of goaltender Igor Shesterkin allowed them to win most of their games anyway.
The Rangers struggled to find an adequate winger to play on a line with Panarin and Strome. Kaapo Kakko, who spent part of this season playing with them, missed more than two months with an upper-body injury before returning to the lineup on Saturday. In his absence, Dryden Hunt played on the line, but didn’t produce much offensively. He has five goals and 11 assists in 67 games, and is now playing on New York’s fourth line.
Still, Panarin made some highlight-reel plays at even strength, and consistently set up his linemates. Despite getting off to a slower start than he did during his first two seasons with the Blueshirts, he was still producing more than one point per game halfway through this season. He scored a clutch overtime goal in a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in October. He also scored a beautiful goal against the Florida Panthers after putting the puck between his legs.
In his first 43 games of the season, Panarin had 13 goals and 39 assists, including four goals and 19 assists on the power play.
Panarin’s Play Recently
One of the keys to Panarin’s recent success has been the play of Copp, whom the Rangers acquired from the Winnipeg Jets at the trade deadline. The two formed chemistry quickly and they continued to produce when Strome had to miss a few games with an injury.
In his last 15 games, Panarin has six goals and 19 assists, and he has three goals and five assists in his last four games. He’s holding on to the puck and making great passes, and he has also been shooting the puck more often lately. He has a great shot when he decides to take it, but earlier in the season he passed up a lot of scoring chances to set up teammates. However, his teammates often failed to finish off those opportunities.
Panarin’s line has played very well at even strength, especially in the last two games. They have forechecked effectively, and Strome and Copp capitalized when Panarin set them up with cross-ice passes. Panarin also scored on a nice backhand shot in New York’s 3-0 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, and he followed that up with another goal on a wrist shot against the Senators. All three members of the line scored against Ottawa.
For the Rangers and Panarin Moving Forward
Acquiring Copp and Frank Vatrano at the trade deadline has helped the Rangers establish a strong group of top-six forwards, and the return of Kakko and Kevin Rooney should help give them some depth. Now that the Blueshirts have clinched a playoff spot, they can look to experiment a little bit with their lines and keep building chemistry during their remaining nine regular-season games.
Panarin has continued to excel on the power play, and recently his line has also created lots of scoring chances at even strength. The star winger now has 21 goals and 67 assists in 68 games and he has a shot at reaching 100 points this season.
This is another amazing season for Panarin, and he is playing his best hockey right now. With the playoffs just a few weeks away, this is great timing for the Rangers, as they will have to rely heavily on him to make a deep postseason run.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, rooting for the Rangers, Yankees, Giants, and Knicks. When my dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees fell short, I started writing about sports instead. I’m a proud graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.