GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The Rangers had the man advantage, and Mika Zibanejad was hovering in his familiar spot at the left circle, waiting for a pass that he could turn into a righthanded, one-time rocket toward the net. The quarterback of the first power-play unit sure enjoyed the view.
Kevin Shattenkirk called it “comforting” to have Zibanejad fully back on the power play during practice Monday at the MSG Training Center after missing the last nine games with a concussion.
“I told him now I’ve got to readjust back to the way it was,” Shattenkirk said. “It’s good to have that option again and know if I get that puck over there, he’s got his one-timer coming.”
The No. 1 center participated in a practice as an extra defenseman last week, but this time Zibanejad went though his first practice with linemates Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich. Coach Alain Vigneault said barring something unforeseen, Zibanejad “should be in the lineup” Tuesday night when the Anaheim Ducks visit the Garden.
“It’s obviously tough to be out and tough to watch, but always fun, too, to come back,” Zibanejad said. “I think this is the right time . . . We took it step by step, and it was another step today to practice on my line. So far so good.”
The concussion stemmed from a game Nov. 24. Zibanejad played two days later, then had to be shut down.
“Sometimes those symptoms come a little bit longer after the hit, and that’s what happened this time,” Zibanejad said. “You can’t look back and say what I should’ve done.”
He has 11 goals and 11 assists in 24 games this season. David Desharnais, who will drop to the fourth line, filled in well with seven points across the nine games. The Rangers went 5-3-1 without Zibanejad and are in wild-card position with 39 points.
But make no mistake, Zibanejad has been missed.
“He’s such a big part of the team,” Henrik Lundqvist said.
The Rangers were struggling to produce power-play goals without Zibanejad until going a combined 3-for-8 Friday and Saturday in sweeping Los Angeles and Boston.
“I think he just makes our power play so much more dangerous instantly,” Shattenkirk said. “He’s a huge weapon on that side, not only the way he shoots the puck, but he makes a lot of poise plays as well that seem to calm everything down when we need it. He does the same thing five-on-five.”
Zibanejad, Kreider and Buchnevich had great chemistry before the injury. Kreider called Zibanejad “an incredible player.”
“I think anyone’s going to have chemistry with Mika,” Kreider said. “ . . . I think it’s a big lift for our team getting Mika back.”