Whenever Mika Zibanejad is cleared to play — and it now seems sooner rather than later — his return will trigger changes in the Rangers’ lineup.
The team’s No. 1 center, who is a force on the power play and had 11 goals and 22 points in 24 games before being shut down with concussion symptoms Nov. 28, skated Monday morning with his Rangers teammates, a positive sign. Zibanejad, who missed his sixth game Monday night, hopes to practice Tuesday, but nothing is certain for the rising star, who has suffered previous concussions.
Zibanejad, 24, was hesitant to compare this injury — generated by a high hit from Detroit’s Darren Helm on Nov. 24 — to others. “I’ve had a few,” he said in his first comments since being shut down. “But every one is different and I don’t try to compare it to anything else.”
He did wonder whether he should have played against Vancouver on Nov. 26, when he logged 17 minutes, 59 seconds.
“I didn’t feel great [after the game on the 24th, a Friday], so we did the protocol,” he said. “I felt pretty good [Saturday] throughout the day; maybe I told myself I was feeling a little better than I was. Played Sunday, and after that game, I didn’t feel good. Monday, the day off, cooled things down a bit and then Tuesday, I didn’t feel right again and the decision was made by all of us to pull aside and see what was going on. Maybe I shouldn’t have played Sunday, but it’s easy to be wise now afterward.”
Before Monday’s game, the Rangers were 3-2 without Zibanejad and 2-for-18 on the power play, as David Desharnais stepped between Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich. Presumably, Zibanejad will move into his former slot and one of the 13 forwards will be a spare. J.T. Miller, currently centering the third line, likely would move back to wing, with Desharnais centering that line or the fourth. But that fourth line, with Jimmy Vesey, Boo Nieves and Paul Carey, has been solid.
The moves could happen this weekend, when the Rangers play the Kings on Friday and the Bruins on Saturday.
Zibanejad has not been cleared for contact yet but described his conditioning as “not too bad. I need a few practices to get it back . . . and should be good to go.”