Mika Zibanejad the shooting center
A closer look at the Rangers’ triggerman
Anyone who watches the New York Rangers can tell you that Mika Zibanejad is the team’s triggerman on the power play. His right-handed shot wired home 14 power play goals on the man advantage for the Rangers last year despite the fact that he missed 10 games due to injury. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen Zibanejad rip home a one-timer — or any other kind of goal — on the power play since Oct. 23. Through 21 games, Zibanejad has just two power play goals.
For some, this drought might be concerning, but really, there’s nothing to worry about. How do we know this? Because the Swedish center takes a lot of shots, especially on the man advantage. And one of them is bound to go in soon.
Zibanejad is presently one of the most prolific power play triggermen in the league. He has attempted 43 shots on the power play this year, which puts him in the top-10 in the league in that category. That 43 individual Corsi for on the PP is also good for second in the league among centers, behind only Jonathan Marchessault and ahead of Nathan Mackinnon.
Why the distinction about where Zibanejad ranks among centers? Because shooting centers are a valuable and somewhat rare commodity in the NHL. The majority of the league’s most prolific shooters — which in this case refers to individual shot attempts— on the power play are wingers; at even strength it’s wingers and defensemen.
Last season, Zibanejad’s 35.22 iCF60 on the PP was the fourth-highest shot attempt rate in the league among centers. This year the Rangers have a new power play coach, but Zibanejad’s role hasn’t changed. He has a 39.27 iCF60 on the man advantage this season, which is second only to John Tavares of the Toronto Maple Leafs (40.79 iCF60). The biggest difference between this season and last season a 21.21 PP Sh% in 2017-18 and a 7.14 PP Sh% this year.
Yeah, the goals are definitely going to come.
It’s obvious just how integral Zibanejad is to New York’s power play. Neal Pionk and Kevin Shattenkirk are second and third on the team in power play shot attempts and Zibanejad has more attempts than they do combined. If we look at all the Rangers who have played at least 25 minutes on the power play this year, Zibanejad represents 25.44 percent of the shot attempts. To put that number into context: Patrik Laine attempts 32.55 percent of the shots on the Winnipeg Jets’ power play. Yep, he also has a pretty good shot.
The centers who share a similar role to Zibanejad on their own respective power plays is a pretty impressive group: Marchessault, Mackinnon, Tavares, Tyler Seguin, Jack Eichel, and Steven Stamkos. With the exception of Tavares, all of those centers are right-handed shots. Clearly, having an elite right-handed shot in the left faceoff circle — which is also known as Alex Ovechkin’s spot — is a popular and powerful tool on the power play.
Zibanejad’s one-timer is beautiful to behold, but he most frequently beats goaltenders with his wrist shot and snap shot.
The Rangers have an abundance of wingers and defensemen who can move the puck on the power play. Even more importantly they have Chris Kreider who is just as capable of attacking on the rush as he is at screening goaltenders and tipping pucks in front of the net. Both of those skill sets make him an outstanding weapon on the power play, which is one of the reasons why Kreider already has five goals on the man advantage.
Zibanejad’s right-handed shot from the left circle pairs beautifully with Kreider’s 6-foot-3 frame and knack for obstructing the view of goaltenders. Unless the hockey gods prove to be unusually cruel in the coming months, we will see the Rangers celebrate a lot of power play goals as a result of this combination.
At the moment Zibanejad is on pace for a 304 shot season — though it goes without saying that he will need to stay healthy to approach that number. We haven’t seen a Ranger crack 300 shots in a season since Rick Nash’s 42-goal season. Before Nash, the last Ranger to eclipse 300 shots was Jaromir Jagr.
Zibanejad is shooting more at 5v5 and and on the power play than he was last year, which almost certainly has something to do with his 20:04 average time on ice this year. If Zibanejad can stay healthy he will start potting goals on the power play like he did last year. And if he can do that, he’s bound to have his first 30-goal season thanks to that nasty shot of his.
Data courtesy naturalstattrick.com, Corsica.hockey, NHL.com.