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Rangers need to decode Artemi Panarin’s puzzling play

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Regarding the Rangers, who get back onto the ice Thursday in preparation for Friday’s match at the Garden against John Davidson’s Blue Jackets:

1. I don’t think we have quite yet reached the stage where Artemi Panarin’s play is a concern. But it is puzzling. Panarin just hasn’t been able to create open ice for himself. That has led to one of the NHL’s elite playmakers habitually forcing passes into traffic that become turnovers, and not only at even-strength.

Does he have less space with which to work because there are fewer outlet passes out of the zone to spring No. 10, the defense now adopting a safer, albeit less creative, chip-it-out mentality? Maybe, but that does not explain the winger’s questionable risk-reward decision-making.

Does head coach Gerard Gallant’s demand that his forwards work equally hard coming back as going forward put a crimp in the Russian Rockette’s style? I cannot imagine.

There’s only been one goal, scored at three-on-three in overtime. Only seven of Panarin’s 19 shots at five-on-five have been on net, with six blocked. Last year, 49.6 percent of Panarin’s tries hit the net, the year before, 53.6 percent.

On the power play, where for some reason the coaching staff has him positioned at the point, some 55 feet away from the net, only three of his 13 tries have been credited as shots, with five blocked. Last year, 45.7 percent of his shots hit the net, 46.5 two years ago.

Now listen: Panarin has played only three games with Ryan Strome as his center. He did not seem much of a fit with either Filip Chytil or Mika Zibanejad. So perhaps a bit of time is all Panarin needs.

New York Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin (10) skates up ice
Artemi Panarin’s early season struggles could turn into a bigger Rangers problem.
Corey Sipkin

The Rangers have never been more formidable post-Letter than during the second half of 2019-20 when Panarin and Zibanejad carried the team offensively, performing as, arguably, two of the top 10 players in the world. Igor Shesterkin may become the team’s backbone, but the dual threat Panarin and Zibanejad pose playing on different units remains the team’s singular strength.

It is imperative both get their respective games in gear, and much sooner rather than later. Zibanejad has been more effective, but he has scored only one goal. The Rangers aren’t experiencing an issue with secondary scoring, they are experiencing an issue with primary scoring.

2. Question, even if rhetorical at the moment: Is it at all a sure thing that the Rangers won’t attempt to extend Strome if the cap number works?

It has been a foregone conclusion for years that Strome would not be part of the long-term plan as the second-line center. I have believed the Rangers would benefit from a different type of center — physical, power-oriented — rather than simply a different player in that slot.

But now, A) There is an organizational emergency at center; and, B) It may be that Strome is as important to Panarin’s success as Panarin is to Strome’s.

Something to monitor.

3. Here is kind of a curious one: Both Ryan Lindgren and K’Andre Miller said they worked specifically over the summer on quicker releases so they could get their shots through from the blue line.

Yet over the first seven games, both defensemen are way off their percentages from last season on both getting shots through and on net.

K'Andre Miller and Ryan Lindgren
K’Andre Miller and Ryan Lindgren
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post (2)

A year ago, Miller took 120 attempts at five-on-five, with 43 blocked (35.8 percent) and 55 on net (45.8). Thus far, nine of Miller’s 23 attempts have been blocked (39.1), with only six on net (26.1).

Lindgren last year had 123 attempts at five-on-five, with 38 blocked (30.8) and 62 on net (50.4). But this year, No. 55 has had six of his 13 tries blocked (46.1) with only five on net (38.5).

And as a group, Blueshirts defensemen seem to have an issue getting their shots through. The seven-man group has 114 attempts at five-on-five, with 38 blocked (33.3) and only 43 credited as shots on net (37.7).

Jacob Trouba, for instance, has gotten only 11 of his 31 attempts on net (35.5) while 12 attempts have been blocked (38.7).

By comparison, Carolina’s defense unit has accounted for 37 shots on 74 attempts (50.0) with 20 blocked (27.0). The Islanders’ D corps has gotten 32 of 71 attempts on net (45.0) with 24 blocked (33.8).

Perhaps the Rangers are not doing an effective enough job moving the puck from low to high to give their defensemen some time and space. Maybe they are not creating enough open ice in the offensive zone. But these numbers surely need to improve. But if they do not, summer school does not seem to be the answer. 

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Lila Lee

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