Michael Grabner must find his magical goal scoring touch in order be a catalyst for New York Rangers playoff success.On Jul. 1, 2016, the New York Rangers signed Michael Grabner to a two-year deal worth $1.65 million per year.
Most Rangers fans were skeptical of the signing knowing Grabner had struggled in recent seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders. The more optimistic among us looked at his speed as an asset and hoped he could find that scoring touch once again.
Don’t forget that Grabner burst onto the scene with the New York Islanders in 2010. His speed and incredible hands earned him a career-high 34 goals and 18 assists. Grabner finished third in Calder voting that season, behind Jeff Skinner and Logan Couture, for rookie of the year.
The following year, Grabner was able to produce 20 goals, 16 the next year and then 12 in 2013-14. The Islanders gave up on Grabner after a down year and traded him to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He played 80 games with Toronto and was not utilized correctly. As a result, he was in the single digits in goals scored.
The optimists were right.
Michael Grabner has been on another planet during his 2016-17 campaign. His offensive success drove the Rangers during their outstanding first half of the season. Grabner has netted 27 goals and added 12 assists in his 74 games played this season; far more than anyone in hockey would have projected.
But all good things come to an end.
Snapping Back to Reality
Michael Grabner has come back to planet Earth. His offensive numbers have taken a drastic hit in recent months. Nobody in their right mind thought Grabner could sustain his unbelievable offensive season. But in all fairness, nobody thought he would fall off a cliff and not be able to score goals period.
The offensive chances are there. If you watch him play, he creates chances with his speed but is currently unable to finish, contrary to earlier in the season. His frequent posts and often muffed shots speak to his level of confidence. Grabner has scored only one goal in his last 23 contests and is currently on a 12-game goal drought. This is a classic case of gripping the stick a little too hard. Perfect timing for the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There is no coincidence that the New York Rangers struggles have mirrored the struggles of Michael Grabner. The early success of the Blueshirts was driven by their ability to score goals in droves. The Rangers led the league in goals scored for a majority of the first half of the season.
It is pretty easy to win games when you average four goals a game, which they were able to sustain for months earlier in the year. The New York Rangers were tied for first in the most goals scored, with 127, at the end of 2016. In 2017 thus far, the Rangers have seen a drastic drop in goal production with 117 goals, 18th in the NHL.
While Grabner is only one player on a 20 man roster, his offensive struggles have had a direct effect on team performance. The defense and goaltending have also wavered, but that is for another article.
Throw out all the poor performances the New York Rangers have shown us in recent games. The playoffs are a different animal. The question becomes which Rangers team will show up in the playoffs? First half Rangers or second half Rangers? Not considering the defense and goaltending struggles, the offense needs to take a deep breath and learn from their early season success.
Michael Grabner will be the key to revitalizing the early season offensive success and the key to a long playoff run. The peculiar thing is that Grabner doesn’t have to change his game. Grabner continues to play with speed and determination but at the moment he simply cannot find the back of the net. What Grabner needed was a big goal to break the snide against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Unfortunately, that did not happen. Grabner was also a good candidate for the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award. The award could have been just the thing Grabner needed to boost his confidence. Mats Zucarello, deservingly so, took home the award and continues to work extremely hard on the ice.
Admittedly, the New York Rangers playoff success will require improvement in all four areas of the game. The offense, defense, goaltending and special teams will all be vital to success in the playoffs. However, give me more offensive production and allow the offense to drive the defense. Remember–Montreal can’t score if they don’t have the puck.