New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad is one of the few players who has yet to play well during the team’s hot start.
The New York Rangers came out of the gate hot with 12 wins in their first 16 games to begin the season.
However, center Mika Zibanejad has struggled to score goals, and his production now affects his play on the ice.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
Mika has 10 points in the team’s first 16 games, two goals, and eight assists to start the season, which is suitable for most players. The astonishing number in that stat is the number one.
Zibanejad has registered one assist while playing five-on-five. He has scored one power-play goal and one three-on-three goal.
This is Zibanejad’s worst start to a season since he joined the Rangers in 2016. He did have one point in the first 16 games during the shortened season of 2021 ( or the Covid bubble season).
He last found the back of the net in a 3-2 OT win over the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 30th. He has one assist in the last five games, averaging 20:03 minutes per game.
He is seventh on the team in points, but only Barclay Goodrow (1) has scored fewer goals than Zibanejad among the forwards on the roster. Nick Bonino, Filip Chytil, and Tyler Pitlick are still looking for their first goal of the season.
No Time To Panic
What helped disguise Mika’s poor start was the team’s play as a whole unit. Before Monday’s loss to the Dallas Stars, the Rangers had recorded points in 10 consecutive games, had a power-play goal in 13 of their 15 games, and the 15-game point streak led the team by Artemi Panarin.
The veteran of 782 regular season games will play out of this slump. That there is no doubt.
When it will end is a question everyone in the organization is waiting for an answer to.
The problem with the slumps like Zibby is encountering is the after-effects of the unsatisfying play. Many times, slumps like this will get into a player’s head.
This situation has become more evident as he searches for his game to return. He has begun to pass on high-quality scoring chances. When he does shoot, he misses the net and has lost the confidence that fans have become accustomed to seeing in significant parts of a hockey game.
The season began with him in the middle of Chris Kreider and Kaapo Kakko. Over the last three games, Blake Wheeler has taken the spot that Kakko was in, but the results have yet to improve.
What To Do?
It may be time to consider separating Kreider and Zibanejad for a few games. The concern is not to affect other players’ strong play and to help Zibanejad find his game again.
Putting him down to the fourth-line center position is not an option. The most logical move would be to put him at center with Panarin and Alexis Lafreniere and move Trocheck to the line with Kreider and Wheeler.
Panarin and Lafreniere will be successful with whomever they have, centering the two of them. Chytil played very well with them until his concussion (rumor) knocked him out of the lineup.
Vincent Trocheck was then moved to their line, and he has rejuvenated his season.
It’s safe to assume the same thing could happen for Zibanejad.
A Head coach’s responsibility is to put players in positions where they can be successful. Peter Laviolette has given Zibanejad ample time to play the ability the club expects. It hasn’t worked out yet, but there are options the coaching staff can take to help get me back on track.
Could breaking up the Trocheck line backfire? Absolutely. Laviolette will rely on Panarin and Lafreniere to continue to energize this team regardless of who is playing in the middle of them.
The hope is that Zibanejad can play better five-on-five hockey, something the team needs help with the season.
With a 12-3-1 record over 16 games, things will only get better when Zibanejad gets back in his groove on the ice. Until then, the Rangers must keep playing great hockey and wait for one of their leaders to get going.
When that time comes, the NHL will face a team that can win on any game night.
The wait will be worth it.