The New York Rangers ZKB line (Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich) needs more meaningful minutes of ice-time.
Player deployment has been an extreme issue this season for the New York Rangers. Head coach Alain Vigneault has lost game after game this season for the Rangers because of this issues with proper deployment.
Often, the most publicized of the deployment issues revolve around the defense.
Why is Steven Kampfer playing while Brendan Smith is a healthy scratch? Why is Nick Holden playing on the top defensive line? Why is the coaching staff deploying such awful defensemen night in and night out while we have young and skilled defensemen playing in Hartford? Neal Pionk, Brandon Crawley, and Anthony DeAngelo are all players with an overwhelming amount of skill.
They could gain good experience by playing sheltered minutes on a third pairing with Marc Staal. But, they are not playing. Why Alain? Why? Why? Why?
Despite the fact that the Rangers would be much better if they exercised more intelligent deployment on the defensive end, they have been winning nonetheless. This winning has been attained by a potent offense.
This potent offense has been led by a trio that has shown great chemistry since they were paired at the start of the season: this is the line of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich, also known as the KZB Line.
This line, packed with ferocious speed, adroit playmaking and timely shooting, has carried this potent offense that I had spoken of earlier. Zibanejad and Buchnevich exhibit the skill and shooting, whereas Kreider exhibits the speed and grit that creates scoring chances for his line-mates.
Over the last seven games, a streak in which the Rangers have gone 6-1, the stats of each individual on the KZB line goes as follows:
- Chris Kreider: 7 Games, 3 Goals, 1 Assist, 4 Points, -4 Rating, 49.4 CF%
- Mike Zibanejad: 7 Games, 2 Goals, 7 Assists, 9 Points, 0 Rating, 52.8 CF%
- Pavel Buchnevich: 7 Games, 4 Goals, 4 Assists, 8 Points, -3 Rating, 52.1 CF%
— Elite Sports NY (@EliteSportsNY) November 16, 2017
Kreider does not how the offensive production that his line-mates show, but his contributions go beyond statistical output.
His speed and physicality allows him to create scoring opportunities in high percentage areas of the zone, typically the slot, where the KZB line is often most effective. He does this by skating in on the left side of the ice, taking a defenseman with him into a low percentage area in the offensive zone. This creates an opening on the left side or right side of the slot (depending where the right defenseman shifts), and creates good position for his offensively adept line-mates.
Zibanejad and Buchnevich are on the ice for one reason, to score and to create. Their passing is often mind-boggling, and their offensive awareness together is unlike anything I have seen in my decade as a Rangers fan. Both have lasers for shots that are fast and accurate, and often allow for jaw-dropping snipes into the upper corners of the net.
The unit’s ice time has been cut significantly over the past few games. Each player’s average ice time, for the regular season, is as follows:
- Chris Kreider: 15:58 ATOI
- Mika Zibanejad: 18:21 ATOI
- Pavel Buchnevich: 14:49 ATOI
Over the past three games, each player’s average ice time is as follows:
- Chris Kreider: 13:31 ATOI
- Mika Zibanejad: 15:13 ATOI
- Pavel Buchnevich: 13:57 ATOI
When you have that dynamic of a line, one with as much skill and chemistry that they do, why not play them more? Why not play them in situations such as Wednesday night, a game where the Rangers found themselves in need of offense, down two goals, in the third period?
The answer: I have absolutely no idea. The KZB line, from time to time, has shown lapses in defensive coverage, indicated by their minus ratings and their combined 87.4 on ice save percentage statistic, or oiSV%. This is a statistic that can be compared between players on a single team. Henrik Lundqvist has a save percentage of .904 this season. An 87.4 oiSV% would indicate a poorer performance by Lundqvist when these three forwards are on the ice than when they are not, insinuating they play poorer defense than the other players on their team.
This is the only possible reason I can see the KZB line being limited over the past few games. If this were to be the reason, I would be perplexed. The KZB line operates as an offensive line for the Rangers, and cannot be expected to produce shutdown defensive results.
But, this is Alain Vigneault. His decisions are always puzzling.
Ultimately, if the defense is not going to be fixed, then the offense must be pristine. It is evident that the offense is not pristine without its top line playing top line minutes.
Alain Vigneault has already effectively ruined the defense. Let’s hope he does not do the same with the offense.