New York Rangers need Mika March to arrive early
The NHL All-Star Break is in the rearview mirror and the New York Rangers have begun their stretch run with a hot February start. Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow this Groundhog Day, so we are in store for an early spring. That means Mika March is right around the corner, and Rangers hope Mika Zibanejad’s annual monster month commences early.
On Friday night, Zibanejad netted the game winner in the 4-3 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks. The bar down beauty is hopefully a positive sign for Zibanejad, who broke a seven-game goalless streak.
Mika Zibanejad and lack of 5-on-5 scoring
By his typical standards, Zibanejad’s goal total has not been up to par. He led the team with 39 goals last year and his lack of even strength production has been evident. He seems to overpass many scoring opportunities instead of using his lethal shot.
The limited 5-on-5 scoring issue can also be associated to not having a stable right wing on the first line. Numerous wingers have made the rounds on the line and it’s become a main priority for Rangers general manager Chris Drury to find an adequate fit by the Mar. 8th trade deadline.
One of those potential trade candidates, Frank Vatrano, thoroughly enjoyed playing with Zibanejad in 2022 when each was with the Rangers.
“Playing in New York was the biggest thing that’s happened in my career to this point,” Vatrano said. “When I was there, I loved it, and playing with those guys (Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider) was unbelievable.”
Mika’s last 5-on-5 goal came on Dec. 23rd against the Buffalo Sabres. That’s now 19 games and counting. The Rangers will struggle to have success this spring if Zibanejad’s scoring is limited to just special teams production.
Power-play issues now a concern
The Rangers power play was excellent to start the season, ranking first in the League for a stretch. However, they have not scored a power-play goal in the last six games. This 0-14 stretch dropped the Blueshirts from first in the NHL to fifth (26.1%).
Zibanejad’s power-play production has also taken a hit. Last year, he ranked third in the League with 20 power-play goals. This season he only has seven. We haven’t seen the trademark Mika one-timer from the left circle hit the back of the net with its usual frequency, in part because opponents are aggressively challenging that shot.
“It’s a lot of overthinking,” Zibanejad explained after the win against Chicago. “We’re overcompensating right now. We have to simplify. That’s what we keep harping on.”
Overthinking is a perfect word to summarize the Rangers current power play. The first unit is buzzing when they are not overpassing and firing shots for Chris Kreider to tip. Teams around the League know how lethal Zibanejad is on the unit, so it may be wise to move him around the ice with the extra man.
It’s time for Mika March
By no means is Zibanejad having a bad season. Although he only has 16 goals, his 200-foot game is exemplary.
In his eight seasons with New York, Zibanejad’s play in March has been nothing short of exceptional. So far in his Ranger career for the month of March, he has recorded 49 goals and 52 assists for 101 points. He’s also an astounding +23 in those 97 games per Statmuse.
Bottom line, when Zibanejad gets hot, the flood gates open.
In a pivotal month before the playoffs begin, having your top center producing at an elite level is vital. More importantly is the momentum that Zibanejad can carry into the postseason.
The Rangers are riding a four-game winning streak heading into their tilt against the Calgary Flames on Monday. Overall the team has looked great after a much needed reset. However, for the Rangers to reach the next level, it’s time for Mika March to arrive early.