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Rangers Miss Mika - But It Hasn't Been All Bad

Zib


Last week was ugly. Granted, a 9-3 aberration surely makes it feel a lot worse but it's clear the Rangers are starting to miss their star center Mika Zibanejad. They've been consistent though for the most part with or without him, at least in terms of how they lose. When the Blueshirts lose, they lose big. Six of eight regulation L's have been by a deficit of at least 3 which shouldn't be all that surprising with such a young squad. Their recent mini-slump though can be distinctly attributed to special teams which, well, have certainly been "special" - and Mika is easily the team's most important forward when both up or down a man. Now an 0-9 PP stretch isn't all that much of an emergency. They're still clicking overall at 20% which is the magic number for a successful unit. However, when players continue to take bonehead penalties while your PK allows the opposition to cash in over half the time (8-15), that's a recipe for disaster. With Zib expected to miss the next three games in four days help isn't on the way quite yet. If Quinn can't get his boys to right the ship, tonight's tilt against the white hot Caps might rival last week's Bolts loss with a national audience tuning in. Yikes.


Big picture though, there's been some good that's come from Mika's absence. Filip Chytil finally looks like a true NHLer. The stat line alone is impressive in the 9 games he's been slotted at 2C (6G 1A - all even strength) but he no longer looks like a kid out there. Yeah he's still brutal at the dot and his next body check will be his first, but he's skating with confidence and going after pucks with fearlessness which was all Quinn was looking for. You wanna knock DQ, fine. I'm gonna hammer him a little later. But when it comes to how Chytil was handled it's kinda hard to argue coach wasn't absolutely right on this one. This is a much different hockey player than we saw just a couple months ago in preseason who's not only played well individually, but has helped linemates Kreider & Buch snap out of their early struggles offensively as well. Not much more you can ask for out of a 20 year-old pivot.


Ryan Strome has also been outstanding. The points were already coming from him before Zib's injury - but he's taken off since soaking up the team's top center role. I've been in the minority as a Strome advocate who's certainly had a lackluster career prior to donning a Rangers sweater. People then doubted his respectable 33 points in 63 games last season simply because of an "unsustainable shooting percentage". Yet here we are in mid-November and the former top-5 draft pick keeps getting better. Now let me reel it in a bit. Strome won't finish the year as the point-per-game guy he currently is, if for no other reason but the fact that Quinn wants to keep him at center - which most likely means 3C once Mika is healthy. I just can't see a reason to drop Chytil and, for as much chemistry as Strome & Panarin seem to have, Zibby is the unquestioned top dog. However, Strome continues to prove his versatility. He's taken Mika's role in all facets with overall success. That's not to say he's anywhere on Zib's level - especially defensively - but injuries obviously happen and it's always good to have a Swiss army knife you can slot anywhere without a catastrophic drop-off. Center. Wing. PP. PK. Anywhere in the top-9. Don't be so sure the Rangers are all-in on moving the 26 year-old RFA at the deadline. I wouldn't be mad at a 4/$4M deal with the expansion draft "escape clause" after next season just in case.


And since we're talking centers, I gotta mention the Lias Andersson situation. While I understand and support Quinn's "you gotta earn it" mantra I'm still struggling to comprehend how Brett Howden has "earned" a stranglehold on that 3C slot. He struggled offensively for a majority of last season and has been even worse so far (2G 2A) despite being flanked by capable young wingers in Kakko and Lemieux. More importantly, his defensive analytics are laughably bad. Meanwhile, your 7th overall pick has been saddled by a career defenseman and a career goon yet still manages to be better (albeit slightly). Perhaps the most fair comparison is their job on the PK. When Lias is killing penalties, the opposition gets the least amount of shots & goals - which is the entire point of killing penalties. Howden's been significantly worse despite also being the luckiest in terms of expected goals against vs actual. Even if you're not a stats guy it's painfully obvious Howden's puck skills are simply not there. Is it a guarantee Lias would be better in that spot? No. Has he forced Quinn's hand in giving him more responsibility? Obviously not. Still, between Zibanejad in the press box and Howden setting such a low bar, there's just no logic behind not giving him at least a look skating between actual NHL forwards before shipping him off to Hartford. This isn't anything like the Chytil situation. He always had a position waiting - it was kept warm until they were confident he was ready for it. This was the ideal chance to simply see what Andersson's got.


If Lias couldn't even get a whiff now, the odds of it coming when the squad is healthy certainly don't get any better. I argue with the Quinn-blamers a lot on Twitter, but I'm fully riding with them on this one. It just doesn't make any sense.