The Buffalo Sabres, who were tied with the Rangers at the bottom of the East Division standings entering play Friday, also were at the top of the league in power play success, having scored on 19 of 55 opportunities (34.6%). But they were an outlier.
With the Sabres being the lone exception, 13 of the top 14 teams in the NHL’s power play rankings held a playoff spot in the league’s 2021 all-division-play format, which will send the top four teams in each division to the playoffs.
That would include the Boston Bruins, against whom the Rangers opened a two-game set Friday at Madison Square Garden, the first two games of the season in which the Garden would have fans in it.
The Bruins, tied for the East Division lead with Washington, were sixth in the league in power play percentage at 28.9 (15-for-52). Washington was third, at 32% (16-for-50).
The Rangers, who entered Friday’s game with a 6-8-3 record, were 26th in the 31-team league in power play success, with a conversion rate of 14.9% (10-for-67). And that was after the Blueshirts went 2-for-5 with the extra man in Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia.
But there have been signs the Rangers’ power play is starting to come to life. The unit entered Friday’s game having scored in three straight games, after having gone five straight without a goal.
And the two-goal showing Wednesday came despite the fact the Rangers were without their No. 1 offensive weapon, Artemi Panarin, on a leave of absence following accusations by a former coach in Russia that he beat an 18-year-old woman in Riga, Latvia, in 2011.
Chris Kreider scored both power play goals Wednesday, and both were assisted by Mika Zibanejad, who had his best game of the season and looked as though he may be ready to emerge from a season-long slump.
"I thought it was the best our power play’s looked all year,’’ Rangers coach David Quinn said Thursday. "We got two power-play goals, [and] we did a lot of good things on the power play. We could have had more. I felt like we [could have gone] 4-for-5, or 5-for-5 on it.’’
Without Panarin, and without Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, Jacob Trouba and K’Andre Miller — and not to mention with defenseman Tony DeAngelo banished from the team for too many on- and off-ice transgressions — Quinn had to get creative with his extra-man units Wednesday. Journeyman forward Colin Blackwell, who has been impressive after signing as a free agent in the offseason, took Panarin’s spot on the first power play unit. Veteran defensemen Anthony Bitetto and Brendan Smith manned the points on the second unit.
But the key to any real sustainable improvement of the power play will need to be continued improvement in the performance of Zibanejad, who had a goal and two assists — literally half of his season total of two goals and four assists — in the two games before Friday.
If that little mini-surge marked the beginning of the return of the real Zibanejad, who scored a career-high 41 goals in 57 games last season, then the Rangers might have a fighting chance of staying afloat until reinforcements arrive in the form of Panarin, Kakko, Chytil, et al.
Of course, the Rangers were also going to have to keep up the good work at the other end of the ice, on the penalty kill. The man-down unit allowed two goals (in eight times shorthanded) Wednesday. It was the third time this season the Rangers had allowed more than one power play goal in a game. On the season, their penalty-killing unit ranked eighth overall in the league, killing 84.4% (54-for-64) of opposing power plays.