Rangers stabilizing as Zibanejad, Panarin duo show promise

Zibanejad Rangers
Mika Zibanejad finally picked up his second goal of the season on Monday against the Capitals.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Two-straight wins are doing wonders for the New York Rangers right now.

The Blueshirts took four points from games in Philadelphia against the Flyers before a 4-1 romp of the Washington Capitals on Saturday afternoon — putting a four-game losing streak firmly in their rearview mirror.

“I mentioned this the other night, when you’re going through what we were going through and not playing well… to kind of bring it all together and get back to doing the things we need to do, we’ve responded in this short season so far,” Rangers head coach David Quinn said. “To go on the road and get four points against Philly and Washington, that’s a pretty good road trip.”

The rare offensive outburst in Washington supplemented an ever-improving Rangers blue line that has yielded three goals or fewer in seven of their last eight games — a drastic reversal of roles from a team that had one of the best offenses last season, but liabilities galore on defense.

“We’ve come so far this season from a defensive standpoint, a structural standpoint,” Quinn said. “Our first two years here was a fire drill so many times in our own end. There’s a much more structured, calm look about us from a defensive standpoint and it gives you a chance. We’re still working on the offensive piece of it… that’s what we’re striving for, that balance.”

To try and get the offense rolling, Quinn finally put last year’s 41-goal scorer Mika Zibanejad on a line with MVP finalist Artemi Panarin in an attempt to jumpstart things. The two had thrived last season — Zibanejad centering the first line with Panarin flanking the second — to create a top-six monster at Madison Square Garden.

“We’ve just been inept offensively and I’ve always been a big believer in putting your best players together to form a line, Quinn sad. “Just the way the year evolved last year, the balance we had with two lines made us a unique team offensively. This year, it just hasn’t happened. I probably stayed with it too long, probably should have put these guys together earlier… If you don’t change things, things stay the same. Maybe I should’ve done it sooner.”

The duo certainly buzzed on Saturday with Panarin picking up a pair of assists while Zibanejad buried an empty-net goal for just his second tally of the season.

“Well if you look at [Zibanejad’s] reaction, you sensed relief, and if you looked at the reaction of some of the other guys you sensed relief,” Quinn said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. He’s not going to go from where he is to where he was last year. We just need to continue to see progress and I thought today was another step in the right direction.”