The Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Vladimir Tarasenko unit, which is one of 11 front-row combinations Rangers have fielded this season, skated together for the third straight game on Thursday night in a 4-2 win over the Penguins in the Garden.
Quarter after quarter and game after game, the star-studded trio are looking more and more like Rangers’ No. 1 unit.
Thursday was just another game to get a feel for each other and build chemistry, but Panarin, Zibanejad and Tarasenko just seem to fit together faster than most.
They played a role in Rangers’ opening goal of the game, when Panarin powered a pass down the left boards to send Zibanejad out for a breakaway.
Zibanejad buried him with ease less than three minutes into the game to give Rangers a 1-0 lead.
“I thought they were really good tonight, they were great,” said head coach Gerard Gallant. “The chemistry is starting to connect a bit.”
When Rangers first acquired Tarasenko, along with defender Niko Mikkola, from the Blues on February 9, Gallant immediately put him in touch with Panarin and Zibanejad.
It was the starting point, but it only lasted two games as Rangers scrambled to find combinations that clicked.
Chris Kreider, author of a double in the third period Thursday, then replaced Panarin on the left side of Zibanejad and Tarasenko.
And Tarasenko was then pushed into the second line alongside Panarin and Vincent Trocheck.
After the arrival of Patrick Kane, Tarasenko remained largely on the front row with Kreider and Zibanejad.
Gallant is now back to square one with both Russian wings flanking Rangers’ No.1 centre. It’s much better this time around.
The bigger move was to separate Panarin and Kane, who seemed to defer to each other and, in turn, play east-west hockey that Rangers can get caught up in.
Now that it’s settled, Panarin, Zibanejad and Tarasenko have come out on top.
“It’s easy to play with Artemi and Mika,” Tarasenko said after the win. “Very good players. Play each other’s games. We understand each other better, like where the guy will be so we don’t have to look around. I like to play.
The Rangers will have the day off Friday before hosting the Penguins again Saturday night at the Garden.
They will have two more home games to wrap up their longest home stay of the season, in which they will host the Predators and Hurricanes.