With the New York Rangers being as hot as they are to start the season, it’s difficult to critique a large portion of the Blueshrits’ roster. The offense is scoring goals, the defense is preventing them, and the goaltending has been world-class to start the year.
One key player in the Rangers’ lineup that has had a rough start to the season, however, is Mika Zibanejad. The star center is a major contributor to the success of the Blueshirts, and he hasn’t looked like himself this year. Zibanejad’s lack of production hasn’t hurt the Rangers just yet, but it very well could in the future.
Zibanejad is a major factor in the Rangers’ even-strength struggles
Upon first glance, it wouldn’t appear that Zibanejad is having a rough start to the season. He’s recorded 10 points in 14 games played and has a +6 rating when on the ice. But the issue is that Zibanejad seems to only shine on special teams, and has been overwhelmingly disappointing at even strength.
In the 14 games played this season, only three of Zibanejad’s points have come at even strength. That includes just one goal, the first-line center’s best ability in the game. It’s great to see Zibanejad and the Rangers’ power play being as productive as it is, but he needs to improve his game at even strength as well.
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A ripple effect has come from Zibanejad’s struggles
To start the season, Kaapo Kakko was given the opportunity to play on the Ranger’s first line. A roster spot with Zibanejad and Chris Kreider was meant to propel Kakko into a breakout campaign, but the struggles of the first line caused that plan to fail.
In 14 games played, Kakko has recorded just two points. He was recently demoted down to the third line after failing to produce on the first line. But the blame can not entirely be put on Kakko, as the failure by Zibanejad had a direct impact on his abilities as well. Zibanejad made sure to accept responsibility for this, as he openly came to Kakko’s defense.
“He becomes such an easy target because me and Chris (Kreider) have been playing together for years,” Zibanejad said from his locker at the MSG Training Center. “That’s not fair to him.”Mika Zibanejad via Vince Mercogliano of Lohud
What should the Rangers’ panic meter look like at this point?
Despite Zibanejad struggling early on this year, this isn’t the first time the Rangers have seen their star center get off to a slow start. Even though he has just one even-strength goal so far, he didn’t record his first until November 15th last season. He then went on to finish the year with 39 total goals and 91 points.
At this point, the Rangers shouldn’t be too worried about Zibanejad. Some concern is warranted, but the Blueshirts should not be reaching for the panic button at this point. He’s still producing points, and the even-strength goals will surely come with time.