Despite some sloppy defensive play and an underwhelming performance in goal from Igor Shesterkin, the New York Rangers remained hot on Wednesday night, scoring six goals yet again en route to a 6-4 road victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
While their defensive play could use some cleanup, the Rangers’ offense has been clicking, especially since the club acquired Vladimir Tarasenko. Whether a coincidence or not, Artemiy Panarin’s production has skyrocketed in the small sample of games since the arrival of his friend and fellow countryman.
After struggling to find the back of the net and having his least productive season since joining the Blueshirts — even while remaining a point-per-game player — Panarin has recently shown signs of his brilliance from the early days of his tenure in New York. Such a return to form would be huge for a Rangers team that appears to be very dangerous with the postseason only a couple of months away.
Panarin’s first season in New York (2019-20) was the best of his career. In the COVID-shortened regular season, he scored a career-best 32 goals while adding 63 assists for 95 points in just 69 games. While he topped that point total with 96 last season, it happened in more games (75), and his five-on-five impact was not as strong; he led the league in five-on-five scoring in 2019-20 (59 points) but was less productive in that area last season (48 points, which tied for 22nd-most in the league).
Moreover, he scored 22 goals last season — a fine number, but one that signaled an even greater skew towards playmaking versus sniping. Panarin has always been an elite passer and playmaker, but his goal-scoring ability, even if not his calling card, has made him more of a well-rounded threat. With last season’s lower goal total followed by a mere 12 goals in his first 52 games this season, the Bread Man appeared to be on a downward trend production-wise.
Now, however, he might be regaining some goal-scoring confidence and becoming that dual threat he’s been for most of his career. He has six goals in his past two games, including four against the Carolina Hurricanes last Saturday night and another pair against the Canucks Wednesday night. His performance against the Hurricanes helped him secure the NHL’s First Star of the Week honors.
Beyond his goal-scoring surge, Panarin has been showing signs of having a greater impact on offensive chance creation at five-on-five; he was pretty much league-average in this area last season. While he’s not quite at the absurdly high level of his 2019-20 season, he’s been making more things happen at five-on-five this season compared to last. Pair that with a renewed confidence in shooting and finishing, as well as a wealth of scoring options throughout the lineup, and the Rangers are cooking with gas.
Interestingly, Panarin’s goal-scoring binge began after head coach Gerard Gallant shook up his lines in Raleigh, flipping Panarin and Chris Kreider, so that the former was no longer on the same line as Tarasenko, but instead was with Vincent Trocheck and Jimmy Vesey. That trio has worked for the past five periods, even though the general feeling was that Panarin and Trocheck didn’t mesh earlier in the season. Whether it’s the way all three players complement each other, Panarin’s excitement to have his buddy on the team, confidence after finally seeing a shot go in, or some combination of these or other factors, Panarin’s resurgence is a welcome sign for the Rangers — and a scary development for the rest of the league.