The start of the NHL season has not been the disaster that many have claimed for the New York Rangers.
At 3-2-2, New York has impressive wins over the Tampa Bay Lightning and Minnesota Wild, while tough losses to the Colorado Avalanche are nothing to worry about. In 2021, the Rangers sat at a 4-2-1 record through the first seven games so there isn’t a major difference between this year’s club to last year’s.
While there isn’t cause for concern just yet so early in the season, there are two players that need are key to New York’s success, but haven’t produced as much as they are expected to.
Before Jacob Trouba was named captain, the debate among Ranger fans was that either Mika Zibanejad or Chris Kreider would be given the “C” as two of the longest-tenured Rangers. Coming into the 2022-23 season, Kreider was coming off a 50-goal season, while Zibanejad was coming off a career year in points.
Both have been fairly quiet though in big moments for the team to start the season.
A big issue for the Rangers last season was an inability to score at even strength. Most of their offensive production came from the powerplay that was lethal with Kreider, Zibanejad, and Panarin leading the way. It’s much different this year. New York’s powerplay ranks 16th through the early going of the season, including an 0-4 night in their 3-2 shootout loss to Colorado on Tuesday. The loss on Tuesday also shed light on the lack of actual production that has been displayed through their top line.
Kreider and Zibanejad have combined to tally 12 points through seven games. That’s not bad at all but when you look at when and where they are accumulating these points, there’s far more concern than initially thought.
Kreider hasn’t scored a goal since his two-goal game against Minnesota on October 13th. He’s recorded just a point in that five-game span. His inability to get on the scoresheet has been a major reason for the Rangers’ recent struggles with getting consistent offense.
Zibanejad has not been much better. Although the star is in the upper echelon in the league in points, three of his four goals have come on the powerplay, while two of his four assists have come with the man advantage. Add in a short-handed goal on opening night, and Mika has just two assists in even strength so far this season.
When the powerplay unit is in a 1-12 slump like they have been over their last three games, it highlights the inefficiencies of both Kreider and Zibanejad at even strength.
This is in stark contrast to what the Rangers have done so far this year. Their expected goals for on even strength (xGF) are actually above the league average at 15.3: a top 10 mark in all the NHL. It’s significantly better than last season’s struggles on 5v5 hockey.
It’s also not fair to point to the Rangers’ struggles outside of the top two lines. Tuesday night had Barclay Goodrow, Sammy Blais, and Jimmy Vesey recording points while Zibanejad and Kreider’s line was at a -1 for the game.
But +/- is a misleading stat in hockey. In the end, production is the only thing that matters in the sport. And as long as the Rangers are Stanley Cup Title contenders, they will need more production out of their two top offensive weapons.