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Artemi Panarin, Rangers know that more production is needed

Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin skates with the

Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin skates with the puck against Calgary Flames left wing Andrew Mangiapane during the third period of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Oct. 25, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Rangers were well aware that the 7-3-3 record they brought into Saturday night’s game at Nationwide Arena against the Columbus Blue Jackets was not an accurate reflection of how poorly they have played as a team, and more the result of good fortune and the fabulous goaltending of Igor Shesterkin.

And while the team’s primary focus has been on tightening up the defense in front of its own net, the Rangers offense hasn’t produced the way it needs to, either. The 33 goals they had scored in the first 13 games was 25th-best in the NHL, but at five-on-five, the Rangers’ 16 goals scored was tied with Chicago for fewest in the league.

No one understood the need for the Rangers to get better production from their offense more than Artemi Panarin, who entered Saturday’s game with two goals and 11 assists in 13 games played. For a good player, a point-per-game scoring average would be fine, but for Panarin, it’s below expectations.

But Panarin had two assists in the Rangers’ last game, a 4-3 win over Florida at Madison Square Garden Monday, and later in the week, he told reporters he was starting to feel better about himself and believed he might be turning things around.

"Maybe I needed to skate more,’’ he said after practice Thursday. "I started doing that the last few games. Maybe… in the beginning (of the season) I wasn’t really using my legs.’’

Panarin, who left Columbus as a free agent to sign a seven-year, $81.5 million contract with the Rangers in 2019, theorized that, subconsciously, he might not have been working as hard as he needed to early on, because of how well the past two seasons had gone for him.

In 2019-20, he was one of three finalists for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player, having posted 95 points in 69 games before the season was ended prematurely because of the pandemic. And last season, he led the Rangers in scoring with 58 points in 42 games despite missing three weeks after taking time off following a disturbing accusation by a former KHL coach of his, who alleged he had hit a woman after a game in Latvia in 2011.

"Any human (would) usually say, 'OK, if that worked, what would I change? I don't need to change anything,'’’ he said. "So, right now I need to change.’’

He may have started to figure things out. According to coach Gerard Gallant, Panarin’s play had picked up in the two games prior to Saturday.

"I think he's played real hard the last couple games,’’ Gallant said. "He's moving his feet better. He always makes plays, and he's always got good hockey IQ, and he makes the skilled play. But I think he just, the last two games, it's noticeable that he's working harder and competing harder.’’

Panarin admitted he may need to be more of a shooter than he has been so far this season. He entered Saturday with just 21 shots on goal in 13 games, and he didn’t have any in the two games prior to Saturday – except for the apparent goal he scored Monday against Florida that was disallowed when Ryan Strome was called for goaltender interference.

Gallant tried to make the point that Panarin’s point total wasn’t where Ranger fans have come to expect it to be, it doesn’t mean the 30-year-old Russian has played poorly.

"It's not about getting points and setting up plays in the power play,’’ Gallant said. "He wasn't bad the first 10 games. I'd never say that. I mean, he was far from bad. But I just noticed that he had a little bit more jump the last couple of games, and he feels better about his game.’’

New York Sports