Pavel Buchnevich acted as an offensive catalyst for the Rangers through the first eight games of the 2020-21 season, getting bounced around in the top six as part of head coach David Quinn’s attempt to jumpstart each line’s offense.
But after registering seven points (two goals, five assists) in the first handful of games, Buchnevich went a bit cold through an important stretch against the upper echelon of the East division – when the team needed him most and lost four straight.
It appears the 25-year-old Russian has found his way back to the level of play he started the season with, having recorded points in five of the past seven games (three goals, four assists) – including two two-point efforts.
The Rangers’ wouldn’t have secured Tuesday night’s 3-2 win over the Sabres without Buchnevich’s goal 28 seconds in or his patience with the puck later in the first to ricochet a shot off Alexis Lafreniere to make it 2-1.
Quinn was asked if he thought Buchnevich was beginning to rediscover the offensive grit he had to start the season.
“I think there’s definitely more of a straight-line, hardness approach to his game,” the third-year coach said. “I really have liked his game the last three games.”
It was the fourth game that Buchnevich and Lafreniere flanked struggling center Mika Zibanejad, whose leading pass on No. 89’s goal to start the game counted as just his seventh point in 20 games.
With Buchnevich coming alive as of late and Lafreniere beginning to gain more confidence with the puck, which has the 19-year-old riding a three-game point streak, Zibanejad is the final key to unlocking the Rangers’ new-look top line’s full potential.
“He’s just unlucky…I don’t know what is going on but he had the chances,” Buchnevich said of Zibanejad. “I think he played well, he’s had the chances the last couple of games. But at some point, everything is going to go in the net. Last season he scored everything. I hope it’s coming soon to help our team win games.”
Lafreniere, Zibanejad and Buchnevich have created 12 high-danger scoring chances in 56:33 of ice time together, scoring two goals, according to Natural Stat Trick. Since Lafreniere’s promotion to the first line, playing alongside a higher level of talent has brought out his best game and made him look like he belongs.
“We talk a lot now — at practices, [before] the game, during the game,” Buchnevich said of his line. “Sometimes Mika sees something we can do different, [or I] see something. Laffy gives us fresh ideas and we try to help each other. We forechecked and had good momentum [Tuesday]. We had scoring chances early in the game and scored some goals.
“I think we played well, and hopefully we keep producing offense for our team.”
For a majority of the season, the Rangers’ bottom six carried the team and it reflected in their record. Veterans like Buchnevich, Zibanejad, and Chris Kreider have quickly realized that this young Rangers squad has no shot at the playoffs unless they consistently contribute night in and night out.
Buchnevich and Kreider, who has six goals and an assist in the last five games, are beginning to rise to the level that is expected of them. Who knows what the Rangers could be if/when Zibanejad joins them.