When the Rangers entered Madison Square Garden for Game 3 with a 2-0 series lead over the Devils, many expected them to at least come away with a 3-1 series lead at most, if not execute the sweep. What nobody expected was for the Rangers to fall to a third-string goalie and let the Devils walk right into MSG and take both games to tie this series up.
The Rangers looked nothing like the team that took the first two games in New Jersey(besides Igor Shesterkin). The power-play that was deadly became a non-factor and the top players did not play like top players. The two who stick out are Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin.
The two top forwards on this team have done next to nothing in this series and that is a cause for concern. If the Rangers want to take this series back to MSG with a 3-2 lead, they need these two players to wake up.
Both Panarin and Zibanejad have combined for just four points(two assists each) in the four games. This obviously is not good at all as the two players were the top offensive contributors in the regular season. If you remember the last playoffs, it took until Game 6 against the Penguins for Zibanejad to score his first two goals and then he went on to score ten in the playoffs.
Panarin on the other hand had a not-as-successful post-season last year. He did have 16 points in 20 games, but he did not look like the superstar that he is. Now, both of these players are yet again struggling to find offense in the playoffs when they are needed the most. One of the biggest reasons for the lack of offense is their positions on the power play.
Since the Rangers have both Patrick Kane and Panarin in the same unit, they want both of them in the circles to make passes on their strong sides. This leaves Zibanejad in the bumper which makes him effectively useless. We know that the best place for Zibanejad is in the left circle firing one-timers or releasing a strong wrist shot. Many of his 20 PPGs came from that circle and he is built for that position, not the bumper.
It seems as if the coaching staff won’t be moving him back to that spot since he does like to move around anyway, but if he starts in that circle, it gives the power-play another weapon. To get him back to that spot, swap Kane and Tarasenko and have Panarin in the bumper so Tarasenko can be on his one-timer side and Zibanejad can be on his. If they can just move them around, it would make the power-play more dangerous.
The Rangers in general have not put on many quality shots on Akira Schmid, but Panarin and Zibanejad have barely shot the puck at all these last two games. Panarin has missed the net more than he has hit the net and Zibanejad keeps passing off to his teammates. They need to get more shots on this goalie and crash the net for rebounds.
That is how they scored their only goal in Game 4, they got the rebound after crashing the net. These two players need to be more aggressive in the next two games and they need to shoot the puck more to create chances and to test this goalie who frankly, hasn’t been tested at all since he entered this series.
The Rangers had all the momentum in this series and now, they have nothing. They are headed back to New Jersey for a must-win game on Thursday and in order to win this game, they need their star players to start playing like it. If Panarin and Zibanejad can both step up and provide offense and the rest of the team follows suit, the Rangers will win this series. If they don’t step up, it’s going to be the Tampa series all over again and nobody wants to go through that pain again.