Are Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane still a good fit together for contending Rangers?

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Are Kane and Panarin still a good fit together?
Boston Bruins’ Dmitry Orlov (81) battles New York Rangers’ Vincent Trocheck (16) and Patrick Kane (88) for the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 4, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
AP Photos

It has only been two games, but the dream scenario of reuniting Patrick Kane with Artemi Panarin hasn’t gone as well as the New York Rangers hoped. 

While the team itself consistently said that any acquisition would take time to jell into the system, one thing has been abundantly clear: New York may not have the time to be patient with their newcomer. 

Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Boston was a clear example of the difficult roads ahead for New York. The Rangers had played short-handed for the sixth straight game and were overwhelmed by the dominant Bruins.

It’s easy to wash that game away against the league’s best and say the team will be fine. But that would also ignore the alarming signs that have come since the trade for Kane was made official early last week. In two games playing with each other, Kane and Panarin both have accumulated 11 turnovers. Add in the giveaways by center Vincent Trocheck and that line’s number balloons to 15. No other line on the Rangers has more than five. 

Kane and Panarin’s giveaways are easily explained by the coaching staff. They’re being too passive and trying to force things with each other. 

“They’re trying to force plays in the middle of the ice. There are too many turnovers. The chemistry is there but you gotta make sure we’re making strong plays.” Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said. “They’ll get it together but it wasn’t good tonight.”

Forcing the plays is one problem, but not taking advantage of shots that are there is something even larger. Several times in the Rangers’ loss Saturday, both Kane and Panarin had — what appeared to be — open shots on the net. Both looked to pass instead of shoot and it resulted in bad turnovers going the other way. 

The lack of aggressiveness is something the Rangers cannot afford to have while playing short-handed and with under 20 games to go until the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

Both Panarin and Kane are pass-first players. For a team that needs as much offense as possible, that partnership can only last so far with both deferring to each other. Luckily, there’s an immediate solution the Rangers could look into testing on their four-day break: Move Vladimir Tarasenko to Panarin’s line and bump Kane to play with Mika Zibanejad

Giving up on a line after two games is the kind of thing that desperate teams do and the Rangers aren’t necessarily desperate. But while Tarasenko continues to produce in droves offensively (five points in three games), it allows the Rangers to be able to use him anywhere on the ice. 

That’s why it might serve the Rangers better to let Tarasenko, who has played more aggressively, work with Panarin and Trocheck while Kane uses his passing ability to set up Chris Kreider and Zibanejad. 

When New York made the trade for Patrick Kane, the expectation was that all four lines would be incredibly deep. Playmakers were everywhere, after all, and it allowed the Rangers to be aggressive with where they put everyone. 

But the Panarin-Kane conundrum is simple. If two star players only want to pass the puck, who is the one that’s going to shoot? 

With their next game on Thursday, there’s still plenty of time for the former teammates to get their chemistry back up to par. But while the games go by and the Rangers continue to search for answers, it might be more prudent to make a small line adjustment in order to get the best out of both top players. 

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