Missing Mika Zibanejad on the powerplayNovember 29, 2016, by
When the Rangers lost Mika Zibanejad to a broken leg, the Rangers lost perhaps the one forward that would be the most difficult to replace. Zibanejad is a unique forward for the Rangers not in production, but the curveball he throws to the opposition when matching up. The majority of the Rangers are left-handed, pass-first players. Zibanejad is the exact opposite as a right-handed, shoot-first player.
This is the kind of player that the Rangers sorely needed for the longest time, as he was the pure shooter the Rangers needed not only at even strength, but even more so on the powerplay. It was the most evident the other night against Ottawa, when the Rangers could get nothing going on with the man advantage.
There are now a pair of problems with the powerplay without Zibanejad. The first is that the Rangers have just one right-handed forward, and that is Derek Stepan. Stepan, as we’ve seen in games past, is a brilliant hockey player, but is too deliberate to be the go-to shooter like Zibanejad. The Stepan one-timer is rare, and simply put, he doesn’t have the shot that Zibanejad has. That doesn’t mean Stepan is bad, it just means his skill set is best utilized setting up someone for that shot, instead of taking it himself.
The second is that it leaves Alain Vigneault with few options other than to deploy five lefties on one of the powerplay units. We saw that in the Senators game, and the Rangers got absolutely nothing from it.
There are a few solutions here that can maybe keep the Rangers above water. The first is to perhaps shift the focus to Brandon Pirri as the shoot-first guy. He’s a lefty, so it’s basically a mirror image of what the Rangers were running before. However without a true right-handed threat from the other side, opposing penalty kill units can load up on Pirri. There’s good and bad there, but forcing the opposition to respect Pirri as a shooter should be priority numero uno right now.
The second is getting another right-handed, offense first kind of player into the lineup. Luckily, the Rangers have just the guy. He’s been sitting in the press box for a long time now. His name is Adam Clendening. And given the struggles of the blue line at even strength, now might be a good time to see what the kid can do. He’s no savior, but he’s a righty who can play the powerplay and can skate. He can give a guy like Kevin Klein a night off to rest too.
Losing Zibanejad hurts more than most of us wanted to admit at first. The obvious loss at even strength is noted when we see the lines changing on an hourly basis. But the biggest loss is on the powerplay, as opposing penalty kills no longer need to fear that side of the ice. It will be a tough couple of months without him, that’s for sure."Missing Mika Zibanejad on the powerplay",