Rangers need to make major change to special teams with stars struggling to produce

Apr 26, 2024; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93), Rangers left wing Chris Kreider (20), and Rangers defenseman Erik Gustafsson (56) stand on the ice during a stoppage in play against the Washington Capitals in the second period in game three of the first round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers have not been playing their best hockey despite being tied in the Eastern Conference Finals after four games. Their first performance was an abysmal 3-0 shutout against the Florida Panthers, and they had to claw their way to overtime in the following three games.

Elite goaltending and production from their depth forwards are the only reasons why the Blueshirts still have a heartbeat in this series. The Panthers have outplayed New York in every single game, as the Rangers have received little to no help from their star players. If they are to win this series and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, head coach Peter Laviolette may need to make some drastic changes regarding some of his top forwards.

Kreider and Zibanejad have combined for zero points, a -3 rating in four games played

New York Rangers left wing Chris Kreider (20) celebrates with center Mika Zibanejad (93) after scoring a goal in the second period against the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden
Feb 15, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers left wing Chris Kreider (20) celebrates with center Mika Zibanejad (93) after scoring a goal in the second period against the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad both play on New York’s top line and have both had a terrible series thus far. Not to mention they also play on the Rangers’ first power play unit, making their combined zero point total even worse. Their worst performance came Tuesday night against the Panthers in game four, where Zibanejad’s poor decision-making was the catalyst to Florida’s overtime winner.

It’s not right that the Rangers’ top two goal-scorers have struggled this badly throughout the ECF. Kreider hasn’t scored since his game-six heroics against Carolina, and Zibanejad has gone scoreless in nine straight matchups. Both players have earned a -3 rating through the first four games of this series, the worst on New York’s entire roster.

Panarin needs to live up to his superstar title and prove he can be a playoff performer

No. 10 has received a pass from many fans throughout these playoffs mainly because he has gone a point per game fourteen games deep into the postseason. But in the end, Artemi Panarin needs to do better if this team is going to succeed. He’s earned three points in four games against Florida, not anywhere near the level of production he was at during the regular season and the first two series against Washington and Carolina.

May 9, 2024; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; New York Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin (10) celebrates his game winning goal against the Carolina Hurricanes in the first overtime against the Carolina Hurricanes in game three of the second round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
May 9, 2024; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; New York Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin (10) celebrates his game winning goal against the Carolina Hurricanes in the first overtime against the Carolina Hurricanes in game three of the second round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Aside from his lack of goal-scoring in the ECF, Panarin has also taken a seat defensively. His turnover problem from last season has seemingly returned, and he’s looked less confident when handling the puck. He’s lucky that his linemates Vincent Trocheck and Alexis Lafreniere have stepped into the spotlight, otherwise the Rangers’ second unit would look just as bad as the first.

Though Panarin hasn’t played as poorly as Kreider and Zibanejad, his slight struggles combined with the first line’s may suggest a major change from Laviolette moving forward.

What changes can Laviolette make to help these struggling Rangers stars?

New York Rangers head coach Peter Laviolette watches the play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the third period at Scotiabank Arena
Dec 19, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Rangers head coach Peter Laviolette watches the play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the third period at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a major change being needed, there isn’t too much Laviolette can do given this current roster. The simplest fix would be to split up Kreider and Zibanejad in hopes of giving either player a spark, but that would be impossible to do without breaking up an overall solid second line. Neither player would thrive down in the bottom six, and no bottom six players would be skilled enough to produce on the top line.

Rather than making a change to the 5v5 lines, Laviolette’s best bet may come in the form of special teams. The Rangers’ power play has struggled through the first four games of the ECF, going just one for nine. Because of this, it may be time for a player on the second unit to be given a chance with the top players.

Lafreniere has looked incredible this series, yet plays alone on a terrible second power-play unit. Moving him up to the first in place of Zibanejad may give life to both groups of players, while also creating a more balanced special teams corps.

The Rangers already have Trocheck as their center on the top group, making the removal of Zibanejad possible. There may not be much Laviolette can do to his 5v5 lines, but giving Lafreniere a promotion on special teams could be an ideal fix to help get this team back on track.

Mentioned in this article:

More about: