Artemi Panarin had no idea, he said, that the 12-game goal-scoring drought he took into Monday’s game at Madison Square Garden against the Metropolitan Division-leading New Jersey Devils matched the longest of his career.
“I don't know, honestly,’’ Panarin said after the Rangers’ practice on Sunday. “I never focused on goals, so that's why I don't know if it’s the biggest or not."
The drought finally ended Monday night when he scored 1:20 into the game against the Devils to open the scoring. Playing with new linemates in Kid Liners Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko, Panarin took a two-on-one pass from Chytil and fired a shot that beat Devils goalie Vitek Vanecek 1:20 into the game. Mika Zibanejad’s goal at 3:01 of the first period gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead, but they couldn’t hold it.
Panarin had five shots on goal in the game, three at even strength, and his new line looked good. Chytil and Kakko each had two shots on goal and according to the analytics site Natural Stat Trick, the trio generated eight scoring chances together at even strength, as opposed to four against.
Panarin, who led the Rangers in assists (19) and was tied with Adam Fox for the lead in points (24) entering Monday’s game, has been conscious of the fact that he hadn’t been doing much in 5-on-5 situations of late. He recently went three straight games without a shot on goal.
But he’s made an effort to play more assertively the last three games, trying to drive to the net more and actively looking to shoot when he’s in range. In Saturday’s 4-3 home loss to Edmonton, he had two shots on goal on three attempts, and in last Wednesday’s 3-2 loss in Anaheim, he had three shots on seven tries. The night before, in the 5-3 win over L.A., he had three shots on five attempts.
Panarin twice thought he’d scored in the first period of the Edmonton game. But video review took a power-play goal away from him when it was ruled Vincent Trocheck had entered the zone offside just prior to the goal, and then later in the period, the video was inconclusive on his left-circle one-timer that was stopped by goaltender Jack Campbell up against the post.
After the Oilers game, Panarin spoke about the need to keep doing the things he was doing and to not lose confidence in himself. On Sunday, he admitted that even as good as he is, and as long as he’s played in the league, his confidence is a little low these days.
“Yes, sometimes, like you're still thinking,’’ he said. “It's confidence. It's not like just two ways, yes or no. It's like 100%, 99%, or 50%. So, for sure, my confidence is not 100% right now."
Coach Gerard Gallant said he wasn’t concerned about Panarin’s lack of goal scoring, not as long as the Rangers are getting goals from somewhere.
“It doesn't matter for me,’’ Gallant said. “I mean, he'd sooner get an assist. As long as he's playing the game the right way, and playing well, and making plays and getting assists, no issue for me."
Gallant has tried the last two games, however, to change things up for Panarin, who has eight assists during his 12-game drought, over which the Rangers are 5-5-2. On Saturday, Gallant tried to jump-start Panarin by playing him on a supercharged top line, with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. Against the Devils, Gallant tried something different, putting Panarin with Chytil and Kakko.
The two youngsters were excited to get the chance to play with Panarin.
"We all know ‘Bread,’ he's a very good player and he's playing a lot, so if you’re playing with him, you're going to get some chances also over there,’’ Kakko said. “So yeah, I'm happy about that. And I understand we're not playing the way what we want right now, so we need to change something. And hopefully that's good for us.’’
“You have to create the space for yourself because you know that when [Panarin] has the puck he can find you everywhere,’’ Chytil said. “So you have to be ready every time, when he has the puck. Of course, we need to help him [when] we have the puck and of course we have to play our game. But when he has the puck, for us, it's just [to try] to create space for him and create space for ourselves where we can shoot and where we can score."