The New York Rangers past four games – against Buffalo, Calgary, Anaheim and Nashville, respectively – Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has effectively utilized Kreider, Zibanejad, Zuccarello on the top line, making a clear difference its performance.
After a dismal showing in their first game of the All-Star break, Rangers Vigneault moved Mika Zibanejad up in place of Derek Stepan. This choice has jumpstarted the New York Rangers top line and has helped lead the Rangers to four straight wins.
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Since Zibanejad recovered from a broken fibula suffered in November, Vigneault opted to keep the Kreider, Stepan, Zuccarello line intact for five games after the 23-year-old returned to the roster.
The KSZ line pairing served as the Rangers top line last season and this season has been equally (if not more) effective in 2016-17. Prior to being split up against Buffalo, the trio recorded 43 points (16 goals, 27 assists) in 14 games.
Zibanejad was placed on the second line with Rick Nash and Pavel Buchnevich and had two goals in his first game back in the Rangers loss to Dallas on January 17. After that, he went pointless through the next four games and tallied one assist in the loss against Columbus after the break.
Since being placed with Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello on the top line four games ago, Zibanejad had an assist in three out of the four games.
It includes this assist on Kreider’s tie-breaking goal February 5 against Calgary.
Why the pairing works
The most significant reason why this line has the potential for continued success is because all three players, individually, make an impact when they’re on the ice. Putting them all on one line makes for a lethal combination.
Kreider and Zibanejad
Kreider and Zibanejad have had clear chemistry since the start of the season when they played on the New York Rangers top line with rookie Buchnevich.
One of Zibanjead’s greatest strengths is that he is selfless with the puck. This – in addition to his speed, his sense and his skill when passing – means that he constantly generates opportunity regardless of whom he’s playing with.
However, his pairing with Kreider is a near-perfect match. Kreider thrives off of Zibanejad’s style of play – it almost seems as if he can predict what his linemate is thinking, and vice versa.
As a power forward with a shoot-first mentality, Kreider plays his best when he uses his speed in a north-south game, when he is taking shots and when he can make himself big in front of the net.
On a line with Zibanejad, Kreider is able to generate more opportunity because his linemate is able to keep up with him in transition, get pucks on his stick and make smart plays toward the net when the puck is settled.
Zuccarello almost serves as an added bonus to complete the pairing. He currently sits at 41 points this season, and 30 of those have come off assists.
Kreider and Zuccarello’s chemistry has been clear over the past few seasons, but more specifically in the last two as they have been on the played line consistently.
Arguably, the 29-year-old is the Rangers most vital playmaker on the roster. He never stops grinding along the boards and can generate opportunity off good plays in both zones. He is quick and can create great chances because of his ability to pass the puck.
Zibanejad and Zuccarello
Zibanejad and Zuccarello play in a similar style – while they can shoot, they often look to pass first. Because of this similarity, they work well together.
They can both make quick, successful passes to force teams onto their heels. It is also why Kreider is such a vital piece to their trio.
There is nothing more dangerous than a line with two skilled passers with a big-bodied winger who will take a shot any chance he gets.
The KZZ line needs to be implemented as the Rangers top line. Period.
Kreider is the perfect balance for two players like Zibanejad and Zuccarello who – while they can and do take shots on net – are more eager to generate a chance off a pass than to take one themselves.
These New York Rangers are roughly of the same speed, have skill sets that flourish when they play together and (in the few games they’ve played) have already shown they have great chemistry together.
It would be illogical to play any of them on another line.
Despite having three of their core players on the top line, they still have three other lines that are just as dangerous. The Rangers roster can support having three players like Kreider, Zibanejad and Zuccarello together because of their offensive depth this season.