Kreider, Zibanejad, Panarin must step up if Rangers are to survive

kreider zibanejad
LOS ANGELES, CA – DECEMBER 10: Mika Zibanejad #93 of the New York Rangers and Chris Kreider #20 talk on the ice during the third period against the Los Angeles Kings at STAPLES Center on December 10, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images)

It’s been a tradition these playoffs to call on the veterans and the stars to carry the Rangers. It’s not exactly a call that relies on uniqueness, as a top team only goes as far as its stars take them. The Rangers have a balanced and deep offense, at least through its top three lines and top four defense, but the stars simply haven’t been putting up the numbers they need to win. The Rangers have two goals in their last two games, and four in their last three. That’s not enough to beat Tampa, and the Rangers stars need to step up.

On the surface, their numbers are pretty solid. It is an interesting conundrum for the Rangers. In this series, Chris Kreider has 2 goals and 5 points, with Game 5 as the only game he was off the score sheet. Artemiy Panarin also has a line of 2-3-5, and he too was held off the score sheet in Game 5, as well as Game 2. Mika Zibanejad has a line of 3-2-5, but has been held off the score sheet in each of the last two games. While the lines look good, it’s not hard to see that they are inflated by powerplay points.

At even strength, Panarin has just one goal in five games. Kreider has two assists. Zibanejad has a goal and an assist. You must score at even strength to win in the playoffs. For the Rangers, they must score at even strength because their powerplay is starting to show cracks as Tampa keys in on Zibanejad’s shot.

Adam Fox is another culprit here. He has just two assists at even strength, and was held off the scoresheet the last two games as well.

This is how Tampa wins. They are shutting down the top guns. Jon Cooper is getting Anthony Cirelli out there against Zibanejad and Kreider regularly, and it’s a battle that Tampa is winning. Gerard Gallant must find a way to separate his top line from Tampa’s best shutdown center. If he can’t, then it’s up to Panarin, Ryan Strome, and Andrew Copp to figure something out and get something going.

The Rangers kid line can only do so much, especially in limited minutes. Gallant will need to get out of his comfort zone and start to find creative ways to get his top guys out there in prime opportunities. But it’s up to these guys to break Tampa’s forecheck and neutral zone play to generate speed and offensive chances.

It’s do or die for the Rangers, and it’s up to the big guns to keep them alive.