Examining Mika Zibanejad’s stunning slump for the Rangers

Not much has gone right for the New York Rangers this season.

Overall, the team is probably not where it wants to be in the standings and seems to have regressed from the late season progress it made a year ago.

The season itself has been full of drama and surprising storylines, from the Tony DeAngelo saga, to Artemi Panarin‘s leave of absence, to some key injuries (Filip Chytil and Jacob Trouba), to the lack of an immediate impact from recent top-two picks Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere. Some of those are more understandable and easier to accept than others. Kakko and Lafreniere, for example, are both still only 19 years old. There is a learning curve there and you have to expect some growing pains. You also can not do anything about injuries. Sometimes you just have bad luck.

All of it has added up to a tough start in a season that began with a lot of promise.

But perhaps the most damaging development to the team’s success has been the absolutely stunning scoring slump that top center Mika Zibanejad is suffering through.

[Related: Bruins beat Rangers on Sunday]

After he was held of the scoresheet in Sunday’s 4-1 loss to the Boston Bruins, he remains stuck on two goals and only six total points through the first 19 games of the season.

This is a player that scored 41 goals in only 57 games a year ago. A player that since joining the Rangers has blossomed into one of the most productive centers in the league, scoring 98 goals between 2017-18 and 2019-20. Only 12 players in the league scored more goals during that stretch, and when you break it down to a goals per game level he actually cracked the top-10.

And now? He can not buy a goal. He has zero even-strength goals (scoring a power play and shorthanded goal) and is currently mired in one of the worst goal-scoring slumps of his Rangers career.

If you break each of his seasons with the Rangers down to 19-game segments, there has only been one stretch in those four-plus years that was this bad, and that came in early March of 2017, his very first year with the team.

So what’s happening here?

Anytime a scorer goes through a slump like this the first question you should ask yourself is simply: Are they still taking shots? Are they still creating?

Every player, regardless of their skill level, is going to eventually hit an extended slump where the puck does not go in the net, and nobody ever completely avoids that. When top-line players hit those slumps we tend to come down on them much harder than second-and third-line players because we expect those top players to score, and score often. And when they don’t, we tend to think they’re not doing anything. This is where the “eye-test” can mislead you, because it lends yourself to confirmation bias. This player is not scoring, so I do not see them doing anything.

You sometimes see what you want to see.

This is where the numbers can tell you something. And when we dig into Zibanejad it paints two very different pictures.

Overall, his ability to generate shots this season is almost identical to what it has been in recent years in all situations.

This year he is averaging 8.9 shots on goal per 60 minutes, 16.2 total shot attempts, and 7.96 scoring chances in all situations. All of them are among the Rangers’ leaders.

During the 2017-20 seasons, when he was a top-10 goal scorer, those numbers were 9.34, 15.8, and 7.99 respectively. Nearly identical, and it should be a promising sign for offense.

The two biggest issues

So why isn’t the puck going in the net?

The first is that his shot and scoring chance generation has plummeted during 5-on-5 play, dropping all the way down to 5.82 shots on goal per 60 minutes, 9.1 shot attempts, and only 4.3 scoring chances.

Between 2017-20 those numbers were 8.18 shots on goal, 13.5 attempts, and 7.28 chances. He is not anywhere near as effective at 5-on-5 despite mostly playing next to the same players (typically Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider).

But the biggest factor here is the simple fact he is getting crushed by the percentages. As of Sunday he has scored only 3.5 percent of shots on goal this season. For a player that typically scores on more than 12 percent of his shots, that is a stunning fall. During his time with the Rangers that is the lowest percentage he has experienced over any 19-game stretch, and only the second time he has ever had a stretch dip below 5 percent. It is almost unheard of for him to drop below 7 percent.

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There is an element of luck at play any time a player this talented, generating this many shots, sees their percentages drop that much. The biggest thing you can ask of a goal scorer is to consistently get shots and consistently get chances. Sometimes they will score goals in bunches, as Zibanejad did in the second half of the 2019-20 season. Sometimes they go weeks where nothing seems to go in the net. That is happening right now.

His 5-on-5 play is something to worry about. But even with that, he has still generated enough shot volume and scoring chances, especially on the power play, that he should have more goals than this. That is why I am inclined to point to “bad luck” as a major factor here. His season looks a lot different right now with a 10-12 percent shooting percentage and six or seven goals.

The Rangers need to be patient. He needs to keep shooting. If those two things happen, some of those pucks are going to start finding their way in.

[Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick]

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.


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    Teravainen scores late, Hurricanes rally to beat Rangers 3-2

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    NEW YORK – Teuvo Teravainen scored the tiebreaking goal late in the third period, Frederik Andersen stopped 29 shots and the Carolina Hurricanes rallied to beat the New York Rangers 3-2 on Tuesday night.

    Jalen Chatfield and Stefan Noesen also scored for the Metropolitan Division-leading Hurricanes, who won for the third time in four games.

    With the comeback win, the Hurricanes became the second team – following Boston – to reach the 100-point mark this season as Carolina increased its Metropolitan Division-lead over second-place New Jersey to two points and the third-place Rangers to eight.

    “That was a great effort. All 20 guys contributed and we got what we deserved,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “If we play like that, we’ll be in good shape. This time of year it gets tougher and tougher.”

    Tyler Motte and Kaapo Kakko scored for the Rangers, who had won four straight were 6-0-1 in their last seven. Igor Shesterkin finished with 36 saves as the Rangers played their third game in four nights – the previous two shutout wins at home.

    “Igor kept us in there as long as he could and we just didn’t have enough in the tank,” Rangers captain Jacob Trouba said. ”They won more battles and played a hard game.”

    Teravainen scored his 11th goal with 2:33 left on a pass from defenseman Brent Burns, redirecting the puck past Shesterkin. The Hurricanes, who trailed 1-0 and 2-1.

    “Somehow they left me open in the back side, great pass by him,” Teravainen said of the winning-goal pass to him in the slot. “We knew this would be a tough night. They have a good team. We knew we had to battle to win this game.”

    The Rangers led 1-0 entering the third and were vying for their third-straight shutout before Chatfield tied the score at 9:49 – the first goal the Rangers allowed in more than eight periods. New York was coming off a 6-0 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday night with Shesterkin in goal and a 7-0 triumph over Nashville behind Jaroslav Halak on Sunday.

    Kakko then put New York back ahead 31 seconds later with his 13th goal, only to have Noesen answer right back 18 seconds later to tie it 2-2.

    Motte opened the scoring at the 17-minute mark of the first, knocking the puck past Andersen for his third goal in four games and sixth of the season overall.

    The Rangers hadn’t lost in regulation since a 4-2 defeat on March 4 at Boston.

    “Tonight we didn’t play near well enough to beat that team,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. ”Honestly, the whole game they outplayed us. They were a lot quicker. They managed the puck real well … We didn’t play our game.”


    Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal played his 729th game with Carolina on Tuesday, tying defenseman Glen Wesley for the second-most games played in franchise history since relocation from Hartford in 1997. Staal, 34, trails only his brother Eric, who played 909 games for the Hurricanes from 2003-16.


    Hurricanes: Host the Rangers on Thursday night to finish the home-and-home set in the opener of a four-game homestand.

    Rangers: At Carolina on Thursday night to open a two-game trip.

    Ullmark’s 40 saves carries Bruins past Senators, 2-1

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    BOSTON – Linus Ullmark made 40 saves, Jake DeBrusk had the go-ahead goal and the NHL-best Boston Bruins continued their pursuit of the league’s record for regular-season victories with a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night.

    “I thought he was outstanding and he needed to be,” Boston coach Jim Montgomery said of Ullmark. “Unfortunately we gave up a lot of good looks, a lot of odd-man rushes because of our puck management and he bailed us out like he has all year.”

    David Krejci added a power-play goal for Boston, which won its fourth straight.

    Dylan Gambrell scored for the Senators and Mads Sogaard made 33 stops.

    “We had a shooters’ mentality for two periods,” Ottawa coach D.J. Smith said. “The third period, they’ve won 54 games now, they’re not going to give you an odd-man rush, they’re not going to give you anything. You’re going to have to earn it.”

    The Bruins posted their 54th win and with 12 games left are on pace to break the mark of 62, set by the Detroit Red Wings in 1995-96 and matched by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2018-19.

    Chasing the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot, Ottawa has lost six of seven following a season-high, five-game winning streak.

    Coming off a 3-2 road trip where they won the last three games by a combined score of 15-2 that included two shutouts by backup Jeremy Swayman, the Bruins converted on a two-man, power-play advantage to tie the game at 1 midway into the opening period when Krejci poked in a rebound from the edge of the crease.

    DeBrusk completed a nifty play with Brad Marchand when he collected a pass cutting down the slot at full speed, shifted and tucked a rebound past Sogaard at 15:52 of the first period for his 23rd goal.

    “It was ‘all world.’ I saw him and he fed it through a lot of guys for a breakaway,” DeBrusk said of the pass. “It was one of those passes where I didn’t know what to do. I was going to point at him (after) but I was going too fast.”

    Gambrell’s wraparound score gave Ottawa a 1-0 edge.

    “I thought I played a good game today,” Sogaard said. “I just battled and stayed with it the entire way. … These ones are tough because we were so close.”


    Ullmark stopped 22 shots in the second period with at least a dozen of them high-quality chances. During an Ottawa PP, he jumped from a crouch to make a right-shoulder stop on Alex DeBrincat’s bid from in close.

    “We talked about it,” defenseman Hampus Lindholm said of the second period. “We know we’re a good team in the third and wanted to tighten it up for him. … They got a lot of chances that were our own fault in the second.”


    The Bruins highlighted women who work and compete in the sports community, having Olympic gold medalist and Boston Pride defender Kali Flanagan accompany Bruins players during pregame walk-ins along with local high school scholastic award winners. In addition, in-arena host Michaela Johnson handled the PA for the night and they also left yellow roses at the seats of female reporters.

    NOTES: The Senators entered the game as the only team holding an advantage in their series against the Bruins this season, winning twice in three games. … Montgomery said after the morning skate that defenseman Derek Forbort would likely be sidelined with a lower-body injury at least through the rest of the regular season. … DeBrusk, playing on the top line most of the season, is four off his career-high goal total, set in 2018-19.


    Senators: Host Tampa Bay on Thursday.

    Bruins: Host longtime rival Montreal in an Original Six matchup Thursday.

    Boldy’s goal with 1.3 left in OT lifts Wild over Devils

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    NEWARK, N.J. – Matt Boldy scored with 1.3 seconds left in overtime and Filip Gustavsson made a career-high 47 saves to give the Minnesota Wild a 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night.

    The game was a chippy, defensive struggle. After two scoreless periods, the Devils were outshooting the Wild 22-19.

    Minnesota finally broke through 6:41 into the third when Mason Shaw scored his seventh goal of the season on a wraparound.

    Timo Meier answered for the Devils five minutes later with his 35th goal of the season on a wraparound of his own.

    New Jersey was unable to convert on a late power play, and the teams went to overtime.

    It was a back-and-forth five minutes of extra hockey, with both goaltenders making good saves. After Jack Hughes hit the post for the Devils, the puck caromed off a post to Boldy and he beat the buzzer with his 23rd goal of the season.

    Vitek Vanecek stopped 27 shots for New Jersey.

    NOTES: The Devils are 10-4 in overtime, while the Wild improved to 4-5.


    Wild: Play at Philadelphia on Thursday night.

    Devils: Play at Buffalo on Friday night.

    Avalanche coach Jared Bednar signs extension through 2026-27

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    DENVER – Colorado Avalanche coach Jared Bednar signed a three-year extension that will keep him in charge of the reigning Stanley Cup champions through the 2026-27 season.

    The new deal for the winningest head coach in club history kicks in once the current contract runs out after the 2023-24 season.

    Bednar, 51, is the only person to win championships in the ECHL, AHL and NHL as head coach. He directed the Avalanche to their third Stanley Cup title in team history last season by beating Tampa Bay, the two-time defending champions.

    This season, the Avalanche have dealt with an array of injuries, which include missing captain Gabriel Landeskog all year after he underwent knee surgery in October. But they’re starting to creep closer to being healthy – and working their way up the standings. Colorado is riding a six-game winning streak to remain in a tight race with Dallas and Minnesota for the Central Division crown. The top spot in the Western Conference is in play, too.

    “Jared has done a tremendous job behind the bench and certainly deserves this extension and to continue as the leader of our team,” Joe Sakic, the team’s president of hockey operations, said in a statement.

    It wasn’t the prettiest of starts for Bednar in his inaugural season for Colorado. In 2016-17, his team amassed only 48 points (22-56-4) to finish last in the league. Since then, it’s been full steam ahead for Bednar and the Avalanche. They became the first NHL squad to go from worst to first in a span of four seasons or less since the 1970-71 Bruins, according to research by the team.

    In addition, Bednar has led the Avalanche to five straight playoff appearances – and is closing in on a sixth – to become the first Avalanche coach to accomplish the feat. His 40 postseason wins are the second-most in team history, trailing only Bob Hartley (49).

    “His strength as a communicator, his relationship with the players, the way he prepares each and every day is a huge reason our team has been so successful,” general manager Chris MacFarland said. “He is an exceptional leader.”

    Bednar is currently the third-longest tenured coach in the league, behind only Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper (March 2013) and Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan (December 2015).

    “Being able to lead this team over the last seven years has been a privilege,” said Bednar, whose team faces the Penguins on Wednesday. “I am grateful and excited to have the opportunity to continue building on what we’ve accomplished so far.”

    Bednar captured a Kelly Cup (ECHL) with the South Carolina Stingrays in 2009, along with a Calder Cup (AHL) with the Lake Erie Monsters in 2016.