Mika Zibanejad’s Rangers legacy hangs in the balance in NHL playoffs

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Regarding the Rangers, who face yet another Presidents’ Trophy challenger on Thursday night in Colorado after having gone 5-2 against the NHL’s Top Ten since the All-Star break:
1. Mika Zibanejad’s issue scoring at five-on-five has been part of the narrative for years. It comes and goes. To me, though, it is more troublesome if No. 93 has trouble producing on the power play.
So Zibanejad wiring one in off a left circle wrist shot — not one-timer — with the man-advantage on Tuesday against the Flyers represented one of the more encouraging aspects of this wild 6-5 overtime victory.
The goal did not come in a vacuum. Zibanejad was assertive throughout the match in which he set up Vincent Trocheck with a brilliant backhand feed for a shorthanded goal in the third period. That followed strong performances against the Panthers and Bruins.
Everyone knows it. Zibanejad will have to be at his best if the Rangers are going to win 16 playoff games. If he is saving his best of the regular season for the last, so much the better, for it is imperative that the introspective Swede — whose Blueshirt legacy will be in balance this tournament — enter the playoffs with confidence and a positive mindset.
3 Mika Zibanejad celebrates with Rangers teammates after scoring a goal against the Flyers on March 26, 2024. Robert Sabo for the NY Post
3 The Rangers need Mika Zibanejad to be at his best in the playoffs. Charles Wenzelberg/NY Post
2. But as Zibanejad has been accelerating, Chris Kreider has been stuck in neutral for weeks. I don’t get it. In fact, No. 20’s play has deteriorated to the point that he was essentially benched for a large chunk of the second period in Boston last Thursday by a head coach in Peter Laviolette who all but never benches veterans.
Did. You. See. Chris. is now accompanied by multiple question marks after going nine games without a PPG and one goal overall. Something is off. Kreider has traditionally been a big-time playoff producer, recording 40 goals in 107 postseason contests.
In fact, his .373 goals-per-game rank third behind only Joe Pavelski and Alex Ovechkin among players who have been in at least 100 games since Kreider made his debut.
So that is comforting even if Kreider’s game has not been so much at all lately.
3 Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) and winger Chris Kreider (20) Getty Images
3. So who is this fellow called Adam Fox who has picked up six minors the last six games and has scored on 22.7 percent of his shots while scoring five goals in the last eight games?
No. 23 is back to the way he started the season, playing the most formidable hockey of his career that includes the 2020-21 Norris, only with more of an edge after the year was interrupted by the lower-body injury he sustained on Carolina’s Sebastian Aho’s leg-on-leg hit on Nov. 2.
It took a long time for Fox, who missed 10 games rehabbing, to get back on track. He has been a force at both ends of the ice, up to a career-high 15 goals with a shooting percentage of 13.4 as compared to a career 6.6 percentage entering the season.
By the way, does anyone think it was a coincidence that Fox railroaded Aho in the rear boards from behind in the final minutes of the club’s 1-0 victory in Raleigh on March 12? Because I sure don’t.
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4. So Matt Rempe didn’t get off the bench in the third period against the Flyers and got only one shift the final 30:08 of regulation after getting three shifts in the third against the Panthers on Saturday without a shift the final 9:53, after getting two shifts in the third period in Boston on Thursday in which No. 73 did not get on the final 12:11.
If Laviolette does not trust Rempe, it’s difficult to envision dressing him in the playoffs. But it’s not just Rempe. The coach has been cutting down his bench with more frequency, double-shifting Artemi Panarin at the drop of one of No. 10’s hats. The question is whether the Blueshirts can get through a playoff grind with 10 or 11 forwards.
The 2011-12 team has an answer for this very question and even if John Tortorella wouldn’t want to give it, the answer is an emphatic NO.
5. I don’t quite get why Will Cuylle’s ice time has been increasingly limited, under 10:00 in five of his last 11 games after hitting single digits in 16 of the first 60 matches. I have no clue why No. 50 was scratched against Florida, though I am fairly certain the 22-year-old didn’t need a rest a month before the playoffs.
By this time of year, first-year players are generally thought to have graduated from being “rookies” after 70-plus games of NHL experience. But that’s not how Laviolette’s lexicon works. Cuylle was a minus-three in the defense-free Flyers game, but I don’t think that was the cause of the winger getting only one shift for 35 seconds the final 13:15 of regulation.
Cuylle has been an important part of this team from Day One. His physicality suits the postseason. The Rangers need more No. 50, not less.

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