Rangers Power Play Struggles

The New York Rangers are in the middle of a terrific season, but one area that’s starting to cause concern is the club’s recent power play struggles. The team’s current rate of conversion (20.4%) leaves them at tenth in the NHL, but in recent games, the attack hasn’t been good enough.

The unit had a quick, clean and dangerous look early in the season, but lately, they’ve fallen into a funk, that’s driven by the lack of Mika Zibanejad, combined with an injury to Pavel Buchnevich and the slump of Brandon Pirri.

The Missing Link

Mika Zibanejad Mathew Barzal
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

When Zibanejad was in the Ranger lineup, the power play worked on a higher level. The big Swede has a hard shot to draw defenders to him, combined with the strength to carry the puck in if there’s space. Now he wasn’t lighting it up with the one-timer from the circle, but he was certainly scaring the opponent enough that they were giving his shot respect.

Zibanejad is unique for the Rangers because he’s the only right-handed shot that they have that’s a genuine threat from distance. With this attribute he will always have the option to either rip off a shot, or if it’s covered make a pass to a lefty that will be in a comfortable position to one-time the puck himself.

As good a fellow right-handed shot Derek Stepan is, he isn’t a threat with the one-timer and it’s shown by the number of shots taken. In 19 games Zibanejad has 15 shots on the man-advantage, while  Stepan has 11 shots in 35 games and no other right-handed Ranger has more than one shot on the power play this season.

Another aspect to consider is that Zibanejad is simply a big man with an ability to draw the defense into him. A goal that comes to mind was back in the preseason — we see Zibanejad get the puck and draw the defense to him where he makes a quick pass to Brandon Pirri that ends up in the back of the net.

The Wild Card

Pavel Buchnevich was so important on the Rangers power play because of his ability to make slick plays with the puck and open up ice for his team. He’s got terrific hands and great vision which are two premium assets, but before his injury, we were also starting to see that he can shoot the puck well.

Buchnevich was interesting because it’s very hard to anticipate what he’s going to do at any given moment and on a power play that’s usually a good thing. In just 10 games this season, the young Russian from Cherepovets has three power play points as well as six shots. His first goal in the NHL came while up a man — he gets open catches a pass from Stepan and sinks the puck behind Tuukka Rask.

Doing Too Much

Brandon Pirri is one player the Rangers will likely count on to elevate his role while Mika Zibanejad is injured. (Photo credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports)
Brandon Pirri is one player the Rangers will likely count on to elevate his role while Mika Zibanejad is injured. (Photo credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports)

The book on Pirri since he arrived has been that he’s not afraid to shoot the puck, and if you discuss Pirri with other people from the hockey community it’s impossible to get through the conversation without his shot coming up several times along the way.

From the jump, this was a precious gift to Rangers fans — a player whose willing to shoot the puck whenever it comes near him and for a while the gift was glorious. But then something happened.

He started passing up those juicy shots for the pass. I happen to think that there is more to this than ‘he’s not shooting enough.’ The recent struggles certainly have something to do with some issues in execution for Pirri, but it doesn’t help that the Rangers currently have one trigger man, and not much net front presence.

The power play is always a collective effort. Teams can have ‘specialists’ and ‘gurus’ but none if it matters if the unit on the ice can’t connect the dots as five. Right now the Rangers are struggling from losing two key offensive pieces to injury. This made a job that was nicely distributed fall to one player and the unit as a whole suffers.

To fix the problem in the short-term New York can try a player like Adam Clendening in Zibanejad’s spot, or they can try to start setting Pirri up from behind the goal line. Something tells me that once Pirri gets one, he’ll get five, then we’ll be done discussing the New York power-play.