Saturday’s game against the Panthers in Sunrise, Florida, will be exactly four weeks to the day from when Pavel Buchnevich suffered a broken left thumb in the Rangers’ 5-4 shootout victory over the Blue Jackets.
Coach David Quinn said at Tuesday's practice that it was possible Mats Zuccarello, Vladislav Namestnikov and Buchnevich could return on Saturday. Given the announced four- to six-week timetable for Buchnevich's injury, his return would be at the front end of the estimate, and, according to Quinn, it would not be a moment too soon.
“We need him,’’ Quinn said of Buchnevich after the Rangers’ practice on Tuesday. “I mean, those three games before he got hurt, he really took his game to another level. And I’ve loved his work ethic since he’s been hurt. He’s come here every day and worked really hard, and we’ve missed him.’’
Buchnevich, 23, has had an up-and-down season. He’s scored five goals with four assists in 14 games, but his play was so soft and indifferent at times that after starting the season on the first line, with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, the 6-3, 196-pounder played his way down the lineup, all the way to the fourth line – and eventually into the press box for three games as a healthy scratch.
But after sitting out the final two games of the Rangers’ four-game trip to Chicago and California at the beginning of November, Buchnevich seemed to pick up his game when he re-entered the lineup. In the four games he played upon his return, he had two goals and two assists, including one and one in the Columbus game, where he was injured when he was checked into the boards by Blue Jackets defenseman David Savard with about two minutes remaining in regulation.
“Every time something like that [happens] when you play good, start finding your game,’’ Buchnevich said of his untimely injury. “Every time. It’s life.’’
With Buchnevich out, rookie Filip Chytil stepped into his spot on the second line and scored goals in five straight games before cooling off. But with the Rangers now in a 1-4-1 stretch, they could use a jolt of something, and if Buchnevich can regain the form he was playing with when he was hurt, that would be a huge boost.
Not that Quinn expects Buchnevich to re-enter the lineup as hot as he was when he left. The coach will be happy if the Russian winger simply tries hard, goes to the dirty areas of the ice, and generally plays the game the right way.
“As long as he’s got the work ethic and he’s trying to do the right thing, you’re going to let a guy play through some mistakes,’’ Quinn said. “He’s been out for a while, so it’s going to take him a little time, for sure. It’s tough to pick up where you left off, when you’ve missed this much hockey, but as long as he continues to work hard and his intentions are in the right area, he’ll get back to where he was.’’