As the Rangers prepare for three tough match-ups this week, beginning with tonight’s game versus Pittsburgh, there’s been no shortage of intrigue to a season that is now beyond its early stages. The biggest news is the continued uncertainty surrounding Mika Zibanejad’s health, which will cause the electric Swede to miss three more games, bringing his season’s total to nine. As you’d expect, I have some thoughts on that and a few more items.
- The Zibanejad injury is troubling for many reasons, not least of which is the lack of clarity the organization has provided on the subject. David Quinn initially called it a neck injury, but the Rangers have since limited themselves to the phrases “upper body injury” and “day-to-day” when discussing it. After appearing at two practices in a red non-contact jersey, Zibanejad regressed. He did not practice on Saturday at Lasker Rink or yesterday, and the Rangers then announced that he would not make the trip to Florida. Abundance of caution? Perhaps. However, there’s more than a slim chance this “neck injury” is actually a concussion, which would be devastating. That’s not to say Zibanejad couldn’t recover, but bear in mind this would be the fourth of his career. He most recently missed 10 games during the 2017-18 season with a concussion.
- In Zibanejad’s absence, Ryan Strome has filled in really nicely as the top line center. Dave wrote a piece last week detailing Strome’s production and how, in a similar fashion to Michael Grabner, he’s so far been able to keep up a pace of production that few thought he’d be able to. It might even be sustainable, especially if he continues to ride shotgun alongside The Breadman.
- Speaking of which, Artemi Panarin is proving every single night why he’s worth $11 million per season. He is the rare player that not only produces points for himself, but makes his teammates better. He’s a magician with the puck on his stick, but what’s more impressive is his ability to win the puck back after the Rangers lose it. Rick Nash was great at that too, but he did not have the innate playmaking ability that Panarin possesses.
- Another Ranger who deserves to be singled out for praise: Adam Fox. The 21-year old has consistently been the Rangers best defenseman on both ends of the ice. That last part is important, considering that the scouting report on Fox was that he would likely struggle with the defensive aspects of the game at the NHL level. So far, that hasn’t been the case. Fox has proven capable of carrying lesser partners (Marc Staal), and also seems to have developed chemistry with Ryan Lindgren. Excuse me while I have daydreams about those two becoming the modern-day Brian Leetch and Jeff Beukeboom.
- I noticed that the post-game chatter surrounding Sunday’s 6-5 shootout loss to Florida was focused on the lack of defense played in the game. That’s fair enough, considering the sheer amount of goals scored by both teams in short spans of game time. In reality though, both David Quinn and a large subset of the fanbase oversimplified what actually occurred on the ice. A closer examination of the numbers shows that the Rangers played pretty decent defense on the whole. The Blueshirts actually limited Florida to just 9 high danger scoring chances for the entire game at even strength, and won the Expected Goals share at 5v5 (score and venue adjusted) by 53.5% to 46.5%. That margin jumps 55-45 if you count all even strength play, including the overtime period. The Rangers still have plenty of work to do on defense, but there are some positives from Sunday’s game to build upon.
- Lastly: give Lias Andersson more ice time, please.