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Mika Zibanejad can’t buy a goal right now

Heck off, snakes. Go bite someone else.

Boston Bruins v New York Rangers Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Mika Zibanejad has one goal and two assists in his first 13 games this season. Last year, Zibanejad had six goals in his first 13 games — and that was with a seven-game goalless drought that followed a hat trick against the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 5, 2019.

That’s not great.

It’s even more not great because Zibanejad is playing on a New York Rangers team that has an 11.5 percent success rate on the power play and an anemic 2.35 GF/60. That makes the Blueshirts the sixth-lowest scoring team in the league. So, naturally, a lot of eyes are currently fixed on the guy who scored 41 goals in 57 games last year.

It’s not a stretch to say that Zibanejad isn’t quite playing like himself, and that’s not just because he’s shooting at 2.6% instead of the 19.7% he had last year. The Rangers’ top center has been, well, less than great thus far. His 0.38 xG/60 at 5-on-5 is dead last among New York’s forwards. The same is true of his 4.32 iSCF/60 at 5-on-5. The only Rangers forward who has been less productive at 5-on-5 this season is 19-year-old Alexis Lafrenière.

So, what the heck is going on? His most common linemates at 5-on-5 are Pavel Buchenvich (119:13) and Chris Kreider (112:33) — the KZB line. But, as anyone who has watched the team play this season knows, the KZB line hasn’t looked quite like itself. Needless to say, a big part of that is Zibanejad being out of sorts and absolutely snake-bitten. We’re talking Owen Wilson getting bit right in the face by an anaconda in that movie Anaconda about anacondas. You know the one.

It’s been rough. Real rough. Zibanejad’s slow start has been all the more difficult to endure because of the injury to Filip Chytil — who looked fantastic before he was knocked out of the lineup. But we don’t really need to get into all of that. The bottom line is that the Rangers need Zibanejad to score and right now he’s not doing that. And that’s a problem.

We all know that even the most talented goal-scorers are susceptible to bad puck luck, nagging undisclosed injuries, gripping their stick too tight, being haunted, and what have you. But the underlying numbers suggest that there is something else going on here.

Some have speculated that Zibanejad’s struggles could be related to him contracting COVID-19 before joining the team and/or him missing the Rangers’ brief training camp as a result of COVID. Whatever the case may be, the 27-year-old looks like a shadow of the player we saw last year. What’s worse is that the breakneck schedule doesn’t really provide him with a chance to come up for air, recharge his batteries, or find time to see an exorcist.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Zibanejad isn’t 100 percent healthy right now. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he’s really wishing he hadn’t missed training camp. The good news is that he won’t finish the season with a 2.6 shooting percentage and zero even-strength goals. Zibanejad is better than the player we’ve seen in the first 13 games of this bizarre season. We know it and he knows it.

There’s more going on here than Zibanejad needing a lucky bounce like a puck going into the net off of someone’s tuchus that prompts a rib-shifting hug from Kreider and countless noogies and giggles on the bench to get him back on track. But it still feels like it would help. Sports can be weird in that way, especially a sport that is subject to the whims of chaos to the extent that ice hockey is.

Sooner or later, the goals will come. The real question is how much longer it will take for the Rangers’ second-best forward to get into gear.

Data courtesy of