The Rangers don't return to action until Wednesday night when they begin a stretch of three contests in four nights. While the team practices, Vince Mercogliano and Mollie Walker had articles on the power play, including the four righties, one lefty configuration and what Artemi Panarin brings to the man-advantage. In addition, Panarin talks about potentially playing for Taam Russian in the Olympics.
The No. 1 group features four righties in Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, Ryan Strome and Adam Fox, with Chris Kreider as the lone lefty. It's been that way for the better part of three seasons, with mostly encouraging results. The Rangers rank eighth in the NHL since the start of the 2019-20 season with 21.7% power play success rate.
According to Kreider, continuity is "the most important thing."
"You see the most successful power plays in the league are groups that have been together over a series of years with ups and downs," he said. "There's that familiarity and confidence that, even if pucks aren’t going in, these are things that we do well that will give us success if we stick with that process."
Ryan Strome typically occupies the spot at right circle normally reserved for lefties to create better opportunities for one-timers, which Mika Zibanejad believes works well for him because of his ability as "a great passer." The Rangers have Adam Fox at the point, Panarin in the left circle and Zibanejad in the slot, which gives him three one-timer options, plus Kreider lurking for tips and deflections around the net.
They've all settled into those positions, but when they're at their best, they're creating deception by being interchangeable and forcing the defense to constantly reshuffle.
"It’s just our movement on the power play, to kind of give the penalty kill different looks – not to get too easy to read," Zibanejad said. "I wouldn't say different plays, but we're just attacking from different types of situations. Everyone is a threat out there, and I think that's what you have to have."
Surprisingly, Zibanejad said "we don't really have any set plays." Rather, they rely on their familiarity with each other to come up with plays in the moment.
"You start to know the ins and outs of how we’re thinking and what we’re looking for – the little tells and the way we do things," he said. "It becomes automatic, almost."
Panarin, in particular, excels at improvisation.
"Sometimes the guys on the power play don't even know what he's doing," Zibanejad joked. "Just be ready for it. If we don't know, I don't think the PK knows, either."
Kreider ranks second in the NHL with nine power play goals, with Panarin assisting on six of them.
"Arty’s so good at hitting you with misdirection," Kreider said. "It’s about constantly being ready when he has the puck, and that also applies to Ryan Strome to Adam Fox and to Mika. Those guys are so incredible at looking one way and putting the puck on a tee right where you are, so I'm just trying to be ready when you don't necessarily think you're going to get it."
My takeaways from this column are two-fold: first, all the talk of more balance on the power-play, in terms of lefty-righty, makes sense on paper but not for the Rangers. I am sure I will rail when the PP struggles for that balance. But as the article lays out, the chemistry built between the players, honed by time on the ice - which we know is copious, as the second unit is used infrequently - takes precedence over that balance.
Second, and much more of this in Walker's column, is the value that Panarin brings to the man-advantage. The lack of plays is interesting, as you would think there would be more or at least the occasional one, which likely is the case after a draw. But, the team relies on their chemistry and ability to read each other. That could be a reason why at times they may look disorganized or disoriented, since each player has to be in sync with the other. If either is off, the end results is a disjointed power play.
“He’s an incredible player and scores a lot of goals, but he had his best year playing with Arty,” Kreider said of Cam Atkinson after practice on Monday. “[We] talked a little bit about just getting comfortable — or not comfortable — but getting used to getting yourself to spots and being ready for the puck when he didn’t necessarily think he was going to get the puck.
“Arty is so good at hitting you with misdirection, there’s been a lot of times over the last few years where I’m kind of standing up straight and all of a sudden [the puck’s] in between my legs. If I was ready for it, I probably would’ve had a better opportunity. I mean he’s hard to read, that’s what makes him such a good player. Sometimes he’s even hard to read for us.
To Kreider, the key to getting consistent offense from the power play is to continue developing the chemistry among the members of his unit.
“I think it’s the most important thing,” Kreider said. “You see the most successful power plays in the league are groups that have been together for years. With ups and downs, there’s that familiarity, confidence that even if pucks aren’t going in, these are things that we do well that give us success. So we stick with that process.”
From listening to Kreider, we get a sense of just how talented Panarin is. Maybe we take for granted just how good he is, but when someone who has been in the league for several years and had success has those remarks, you get a sense just how talented he is. Panarin has settled in tremendously well since arriving in NY and will be a mainstay for hopefully the next five years.
Interesting that Panarin, despite the issues he had last year due to the false accusations that came out after he spoke out about Russian President Vladimir Putin, still wants to play for Team Russia in the 2022 Beijing Olympics. Whether he is invited given his public opposition of Putin, remains to be seen. But, in an interview with a Russian media outlet, R-Sport, published Monday, Panarin revealed he has in fact met with team officials to discuss his participation at the Olympic Games in February.
“In October, I met with Alexei Zhamnov, Ilya Kovalchuk and Sergei Gonchar,” Panarin told R-Sport. “They told me that we should not play for ourselves, but for our country. That everyone, regardless of their position on the team, should do their job one hundred percent. There shouldn’t be a situation where a player comes in thinking about individual statistics — goals and assists."
I think every Rangers fan will be in a mild panic while he is there, concerned about his well being. No one will relax until he is back on US soil and shown to be healthy, Will be very interesting to see if Panarin is named to the team. Talent-wise, he is a first liner, question is how will his public stance of a year ago impact his chances.