Gallant won’t change power play despite accurate critique, Lafreniere struggles


Gerard Gallant had a critique of the power play today after practice. He thinks it’s too predictable. He’s right.

On one hand, the Rangers coach pointed out the obvious to USA Today beat reporter Vince Mercogliano. They can’t use the same two plays. That being either Adam Fox or Artemi Panarin passing the puck over to the left circle for the Mika Zibanejad one-timer.

The other usually is Fox shooting for Chris Kreider in front for a tip-in. Panarin also has started shooting more which helps. They also like to run a simple play in the slot for Vincent Trocheck. He’s been effective with seven power play goals on either shots, deflections or rebounds. He ranks second behind Zibanejad (10) on the team.

If there is a noticeable difference from last season, it’s Kreider with only four. He hasn’t been able to score as consistently on the man-advantage. They haven’t been able to execute the high to low play much. A disappointment for a top unit Gallant relies on. Maybe that’s what he meant about getting more traffic in front.

With the power play only 1 for its last 14, that is a concern. Interestingly, Kreider is having more success at even strength. He’s scored 11 of his team-leading 16 there. He also has one shorthanded tally. He’s been separated lately from sidekick Zibanejad, who’s been cold. He has no goals over the last eight games. His last three all came on the power play including a pair at Vegas on Dec. 7 and one versus Chicago on Dec. 3.

During that stretch, Zibanejad still has six assists. He’s still contributing. He’s also been getting plenty of scoring opportunities. They’re just not going in. He’s due. When he doesn’t score on the power play, it’s not as effective. Ten of his fifteen goals have come on it. They just can’t be too predictable as Gallant cited.

If there’s a disappointing aspect, it’s that the top center only has four even strength goals. Hardly the kind of production expected from such a quality player. They need more from him at five-on-five.

When you look at the team’s power play production, it’s coming mostly from three players. Of the 25 they’ve scored, Zibanejad, Trocheck and Kreider have combined for 21 power play goals. Panarin is next with two. Fox and Filip Chytil each have one with the latter highlighted due to it being the lone PPG scored by the second unit. A unit that’s gotten more looks since Vitaly Kravtsov has been added to Chytil, Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere and Jacob Trouba.

With the man-advantage slumping, they’re down to 17th in the league clicking at 21.9 percent. That breaks down to 25 for 114. A far cry from where they should be. Especially given the personnel they feature on the number one unit.

My question for Gallant is why won’t he consider a change. He indicated to Mercogliano, “No… These guys are too good to put somebody else in there.” If that’s the case, then shouldn’t they be better? Adding Trocheck to replace Ryan Strome has helped lead to more PPG’s in that spot. But it’s not as consistent.

Obviously, Kreider hasn’t been able to duplicate his career season. He scored 52 goals including a single season franchise record 26 power play goals in ’21-22. However, if the five-on-four was functioning better, the real leader of the team would have more than four on the man-advantage. Some of it has been bad luck. But he’s the net front presence Gallant is alluding to.

Is that more a criticism of Kreider or is he displeased with how it’s run up top. There’s an awful lot of passing between Fox and Panarin. Fox is a terrific quarterback who is unselfish to a fault. As good as he is, Fox needs to shoot the puck more. He should have more than one power play goal. Most of the time, he makes shot passes for deflections.

The power play issue is one that must be resolved. Even having won eight of nine games before Christmas, one bad loss exposed the issue. When they don’t convert, it hurts the team. In defeats to the rival Pens and Caps, they went a combined 0 for 8. Conversely, Pittsburgh and Washington scored three times in six chances. A losing formula.

The disappointment of Alexis Lafreniere isn’t going away either. He has five goals in 36 games. Way too few for the former 2020 top pick. All five have come at even strength. Of course they have. In 171 career games, he’s never had a power play goal.

Can you imagine this happening in any other organization? It’s absurd. Lafreniere remains a secondary player on a team reliant on proven veterans. So, like Kakko who has shown improvement in Year Four with nine even strength goals second behind Kreider, Lafreniere remains on the second unit that includes Chytil, Kravtsov (for now) and the miscast Trouba. It should be K’Andre Miller or Braden Schneider.

That doesn’t explain the lack of goal production. Lafreniere is 21. He was coming off a good second year where he scored 19 goals on 110 shots (17.3 percent). In his rookie year, his shooting percentage was 17.9 (12 on 67). This season, it’s a paltry 7.9 with only five scored on 63 shots. Hardly enough.

Is it a lack of confidence? He hasn’t been looking shot much. Whatever it is, it can’t continue. At some point, the Rangers need more from Lafreniere. Regardless that he still has 17 points with 16 coming at even strength, it isn’t pointed in the right direction. Yes. He did finally pick up a power play assist. His third power play point of what’s been an underwhelming start to his career.

When they had him fall into their lap due to a flawed two part lottery system, the Rangers weren’t prepared to add a third left wing behind Kreider and Panarin. That’s meant Gallant at times shifting the younger player to the off side. An experiment that didn’t help.

With him averaging a shade over 15 minutes, it’s up to Lafreniere to figure it out. He must find more space and not pass up shots for low percentage passes that result in turnovers similar to the ones we’ve seen from leading scorer Panarin.

Lafreniere needs to simplify his game. I don’t mean finishing checks which he does as evidenced by the 70 hits. He does take the body. It means thinking shot more when opportunities present themselves. It also means getting in front and scoring a garbage goal. Something he’s capable of. Time is ticking in Year Three.

The Rangers visit the Lightning tomorrow night. Face-off is after 7 PM.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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