GREENBURGH, N.Y. — It’s not that David Quinn does not want to have Mika Zibanejad back in the lineup.
Rather, it’s that the Rangers coach wants to make sure that his No. 1 center is ready for the rigors of an NHL game.
“He needs to feel good [and] we need to feel good about where he is, mentally,” Quinn said of Zibanejad before heading to Canada for a weekend back-to-back against the Senators and Canadiens Friday and Saturday. The Rangers held an optional practice at their training facility Thursday, which Zibanejad participated in while wearing a blue jersey. He had practiced Tuesday but wore a red no-contact jersey.
“It is a good sign,” said Quinn, who later added Zibanejad was “getting closer and closer.”
Zibanejad did not join the team for the abbreviated road trip, a team spokesperson confirmed.
While Quinn announced Henrik Lundqvist will play Friday night in Ottawa and Alexandar Georgiev starts in the Bell Centre, it is unlikely that Zibanejad will play in either one of those games although “there’s a chance” he could make the trip. Quinn, who had not talked to trainers before he met with reporters, was adamant that Zibanejad getting through a contact practice would be part of the decision-making process before clearing the center to return to the lineup.
“If he came, it would be more for being with the team skating,” said Quinn, who stressed he would be "shocked” if Zibanejad dressed against the Senators or Canadiens since “there’s a lot of uncertainty in this situation because he hasn’t had a chance to get contact. We’re [not] just going to throw him out there [for] a full game without having a practice or a chance to have some contact.”
Following Saturday night’s game, the Rangers have home games Monday against former teammate Mats Zuccarello and the Minnesota Wild, and Wednesday against the Hurricanes, before finishing the month with back-to-back games in Boston on Nov. 29 and a Nov. 30 matinee at the Devils. So there are three days (Nov. 24, 26 and 28) when the team could conceivably hold practices.
Zibanejad has missed 10 games after sustaining a still-unknown injury stemming from a first-period hit from Boston center Patrice Bergeron in the Rangers’ 7-4 loss to the Bruins on Oct. 27. Still, he ranks fourth on the team in goals (4) and assists (7). He is second on the team in points per game played with 1.22, and his 20:52 average ice time trailed only defenseman Jacob Trouba. Zibanejad’s 11 points are tied with Chris Kreider for fifth most on the team.
The Rangers (9-8-2) were 3-5-1 with their top-line center, and have compiled a 6-3-1 record without him, while scoring at almost the exact same rate (3.55 goals per game with Zibanejad, and 3.50 without).
“He is elite,” Brendan Smith said. “He is just getting better. It’s unbelievable to watch him, how he continues to get better every year. He works hard in the summer to get into the best shape possible. He works hard on the ice. He’s engaged. There’s a lot of things to like about him.”