Artemi Panarin and Rangers remain very hot: ‘It was pretty ridiculous’
NEWARK, N.J. — A return to the Prudential Center may not have meant much to the New York Rangers as a group. Artemi Panarin swears that returning to the building where the Rangers’ season ended with a stroke six and a half months ago means little to him.
“I don’t have any thoughts about last year before the game,” he said. “Zero” was a big word in that series against the New Jersey Devils — Panarin scored no goals in those seven games and the Rangers had no goals and no runs in Game 7 on May 1 in this building, a 4-0 loss that sent the team It’s been a very busy offseason, starting with Gerard Gallant leaving as coach a week later.
Panarin and Gallant didn’t always get along. That may have played a role in what we’re seeing now, through 15 games and the Rangers’ record is 12-2-1 after Saturday’s 5-3 win here. Panarin, who has three 90-point seasons in four years as a guard, has looked great before. But this season represents a whole new level, a style of offense that Panarin has played on and off during his NHL career but seemingly never for this long.
His two goals on Saturday gave him 10 goals for the season. His score reaches 26 points, one point behind the league lead. On a night that should have belonged to Jack Hughes, who picked up two points in his first game since November 3, Panarin took some of the spotlight back with his goals, including the equalizer on the turning point in the third game of the encounter. When Panarin took about half a second to connect one by Vitek Vancic at 11:04 of the third.
“It was pretty ridiculous,” said Jimmy Vesey, who scored twice, including the game-winner on a rebound with 2:49 left. “I was impressed with him last year, when I played with him for the first time. This year he found new equipment. He was a difference maker.”
Panarin said his last two summers have seen more work, but not necessarily because of any frustrations with his performance in the playoffs. He had good numbers during the 2022 postseason — 16 points in 20 games, plus an overtime winner in Game 7 to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round — but took some heat for not playing the playoff style Gallant wanted to see.
Last year was chaotic and Panarin certainly wasn’t alone. “Honestly, in the summer, I feel like I probably work more the last couple of years,” Panarin said. “But that’s probably because of me. He thinks the coach is giving me better conditioning. I disagree with him, but I still do it.”
With Gallant approving of Panarin’s flowing locks, Panarin returned with a seemingly different mindset. His opening goal Saturday came from the circle outside the wing, which is usually Mika Zibanejad’s home on the power play — Zibanejad positioned himself on the bumper and it was Vincent Trocheck, in Panarin’s usual place in the opposite circle, who slammed down a bread-like shot. Pass through the Devils’ PK diamond so Panarin can hit a mostly open net in a wild first period.
Trocheck’s ability to read and respond to Panarin and Alexis Lafrenière since Trocheck was elevated to that line two weeks ago has gone a long way toward continuing Panarin’s hot streak. Filip Chytil has yet to resume skating since suffering a concussion on November 2, so this is second line for the foreseeable future; Although Chytil has played well with those two wingers, Trosek has been on a different level as well, scoring 3-7-10 in the five games since taking over for Chytil between Panarin and Lafreniere.
“They were a threat when they were on the ice again,” Peter Laviolette said of that line, which has been the most productive of the season. “(Panarin) was playing very hard and very good.”
Igor Shesterkin returned after a four-game, two-week absence and gave up a few shaky plays in the first period but managed to hold the Rangers at bay at times in a game that featured perhaps 20 odd rushes between the two teams. Hughes was the old threat for the Devils, hitting 14 shots, eight of which were on target. Both of his points were fairly accidental – Shesterkin allowed Hughes’ soft shot off the wall to sneak through his pads at first and Hughes lost the handle on a pass before the ball slid through four sets of skates and onto the stick of Erik Haula to make it 3-2. Jersey took the lead early in the third period — but Hughes still looked like one of the best players in the league.
Panarin did too. He had 12 attempts, nine of which were on net, and spent the bulk of a strong shift with the game tied at 3-3 looking for space to shoot in the high slot while Trocheck and Lafrenière dished out pucks and turned them over. In years past, you might have found Panarin near the wall, trying to make a great pass in traffic; Now, he’s demanding the puck and making defenders guess whether he’s going to shoot or shoot the ball.
He’s the Rangers’ runaway leader in shots with 64 — Zibanejad is next with 42 — and his 15-point streak to start the season is a new franchise record.
He was asked if he feels good with the puck on his stick now.
He said: “Yes.” “Simple question, simple answer.”
And last year, even in this building, seems so far away.
(Photo: Jon Jones/USA Today)
(Tags for translation) New York Rangers