New York Rangers: Mika Zibanejad’s resurgence combined with team health has Blueshirts thinking playoffs

Mar 25, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) celebrates his goal with left wing Artemi Panarin (10) and left wing Chris Kreider (20) against the Philadelphia Flyers during the first period at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers have won four of their last five and are now just three points behind the Bruins for the final playoff spot in the East. Two of those wins have came at the expense of the Flyers whom they’ve outscored 17-3 in those contests.

It’s been a difficult year for the Blueshirts as they continue to deal with adversity. From last season’s top scoring defenseman Tony DeAngelo hitting a self destruct button to Artemi Panarin’s 9 game hiatus after a politically motivated allegation, the ride has been bumpy. Injuries, COVID, and slumps threatened to derail the season.

Still, here they are with a 15-13-4 record good for fifth place tie in the East. In their last 7 games they are 5-1-1 with wins against the Bruins and Capitals included. They have scored 34 goals in that time and only given up 14. More importantly they are healthy, and Mika Zibanejad isn’t slumping anymore.

Did I fail to mention they are 4-1 with David Quinn on the COVID list? The East is now on notice.

Mika Zibanejad’s resurgence was the missing piece

Last week Mika Zibanejad scored a natural hat trick and six points in the second period of a 9-0 wash out of the Flyers. In his last game against Philly he took a little longer but completed the feat again. The Rangers center posted another natural and six points in an 8-3 clubbing of the host Flyers. Since that first breakout game, Zibanejad has recorded 15 points in his last five contests.

“The puck seems to go in right now, obviously,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to contribute offensively for the team, especially since (struggling) the start and the first part of the season. It’s obviously a great feeling when you win and you can contribute.”

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It’s not all about points for the Rangers top center, he’s doing it all on both sides of the puck as he’s their top penalty killer. He assisted on Pavel Buchnevich’s shorthanded tally against the Flyers to help the Rangers tie for fourth in the NHL for shorthanded goals. The PK has killed off 73 of the last 82 penalties good for 89%, and Zibanejad has the Blueshirts tied for fifth in penalty kill efficiency at 85.3%.

Mika started showing signs of coming out of his season long slump when he picked up two assists in a 4-0 win over the Bruins on March 13. Since then he has amassed 17 points in 7 contests and to no one’s surprise the Blueshirts have gone 5-1-1.

Mika’s Magic Show

  • First player in NHL history to score 6 points or more against the same opponent in the same season
  • Has 15 points in his last 5 games
  • Has 23 points in his last 17 games

Other Rangers playing incredible hockey

new york rangers
Feb 26, 2021; New York, New York, USA; Ryan Strome #16 of the New York Rangers celebrates his goal against the Boston Bruins at 2:32 of the second period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not just Mika Zibanejad going that has the Rangers thinking playoffs. Artemi Panarin who missed 9 games due to a leave of absence hasn’t missed a beat. He’s their best player and picks up points with easy almost every game. Last season he picked up 95 points in 69 games for a 1.37 points per game average. This year he’s picked up where he left off at 1.38 points per game (29 in 21).

Pavel Buchnevich is the teams leading scorer with 31 points in 31 games and has exceeded all expectations. As Kaapo Kakko and soon to debut Vitali Kravtsov continue to develop their game, Buchnevich is the unquestionable top right wing on the team.

Adam Fox is also on fire but he’s either being overshadowed by Mika’s big games or Panarin’s razzle-dazzle assists and goals. All he does is play a dominant role night in and night out while logging top minutes. Last game he set a career high with five assists in the win against the Flyers. In his last five games he’s notched a goal and 11 points.

Ryan Strome continues to make his mark for the Rangers this season as he’s now reached 30 points in 32 games. Last night he recorded a goal and three helpers in the rout. The Blueshirts second line pivot has a seven game point streak with 12 points in that span. Furthermore, he’s been clutch picking up at least one point in 13 of the team’s 15 wins this season.

Rookie K’Andre Miller has been strong all season and has helped Jacob Trouba stabilize and improve his game as the veteran has done for him. Should Alexis Lafrenière and Filip Chytil show some more consistency the Rangers will be a force sooner than some believe.

Finally, the Rangers got their #1 goalie back from injury. Igor Shesterkin had a busy night in his first game back stopping 41 shots. He made some big saves to keep the Rangers in control of the game. The most important take away is that he showed no lingering effects from his groin injury as his lateral movement was sharp. His stats this season continue to improve with a 7-7-1 record, a .922 SV% and a 2.36 GAA.

The Rangers have a hole to climb out of, but they can do it. Boston does hold three games in hand over them but have struggled of late. The two teams close out the season against each other and it could be a set to decide who gets the last spot in the East for the post season.

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