The new-look Rangers are dangerous on every line
Nine games down and it’s hard to imagine a better start for the New York Rangers. Not only are the Blueshirts 6-3-0 and boasting the NHL’s top offense, it seems like every new player that GM Jeff Gorton brought in has been a contributor.
At the top of the list is Mika Zibanejad, the 23-year-old the Rangers got from Ottawa for Derrick Brassard.
Zibanejad, a center, has two goals and six assists so far with his new team. Tonight against the Blues, he’ll be on a line with injury returnee Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello. Kreider had three goals and four assists before he was sidelined after five games. All five of his even-strength points came with Zibanejad on the ice with him.
“I didn’t know a lot about Mika Zibanejad,” winger Rick Nash told Sportsnet, “but he’s got everything to be a first-line center.”
Nash himself is feeling pretty good these days, with four goals already. He’ll skate tonight with rookie Jimmy Vesey, who has five goals, and veteran center Derek Stepan, who has five assists. No wonder Nash is glad he wasn’t traded over the summer..
So that’s the top two lines, now let’s talk about the third, which was fantastic in Sunday’s 6-1 destruction of the Lightning. Michael Grabner had a hat trick, Kevin Hayes had three assists, and J.T. Miller ended up with a goal and two assists. You have to figure head coach Alain Vigneault will want to try that trio some more.
Even the fourth line has a danger factor. Brandon Pirri has four goals this season, two of them at even strength. And don’t forget young Pavel Buchnevich, who’s missed time with back spasms. Pirri and Buchnevich are expected to play tonight with Jesper Fast. Not your typical, grinding fourth line, that’s for sure.
“Right now, I look at our four lines and I see balance,” said Vigneault. “I see a good skill level. I see on every line guys who can make plays and use their speed. And to use their speed, the D have got to get the puck up, and our defensemen have done a good job of that so far.”
As for the defense, it remains the biggest concern, if only because the forwards have been so good and Henrik Lundqvist is in goal.
But at least they have Ryan McDonagh back there.
“He’s without a doubt our best skating defenseman,” said Vigneault. “He can skate away from the forecheck, he can support the attack, jump up and beat a lot of their forwards down the ice and make a 2-on-2 a 3-on-2 or a 3-on-3 a 4-on-3 ... He’s played extremely well and we need him to play well, he’s our best defenseman.”