TORONTO – Mika Zibanejad became the last man standing. He is now the only Ranger to have played every game this season for the Rangers after Chris Kreider did not make the trip to Toronto because of a lower-body injury.
Zibanejad is the Rangers’ leading scorer. He entered Saturday’s game against the Maple Leafs with a career-highs in goals (28), assists (39) and points (67). With his normal left winger, Kreider, not playing, coach David Quinn decided to try newcomer Brendan Lemieux, acquired at the trade deadline from Winnipeg as part of the return for Kevin Hayes, on the first line, next to Zibanejad and right wing Pavel Buchnevich.
“The guy’s got 12 [career] goals in limited opportunities, so I thought it would be a good opportunity for him to get up there and see how he can work with Mika and with [Buchnevich],’’ Quinn said.
In his first 11 games with the Rangers, Lemieux, playing mostly as a third-liner, had two goals and three assists, and averaged 11:47 in ice time. The increase in ice time was something Quinn had said Lemieux wasn’t prepared for, having averaged less than eight minutes per game playing on the fourth line with Winnipeg. But playing on the first line meant a significant step up in ice time for the 23-year-old. He played 15:29 Saturday night.
D Freddie Claesson and F Connor Brickley were healthy scratches, and RW Jesper Fast (upper body) was held out again. Fast, who has been managing his injury for months, may be done for the season . . . After having three days in between games, the Rangers now finish the season with eight games in the next 14 days, with three in the next seven days, and five in the seven after that, including two sets of back-to-backs. They close the season on a back-to-back (home against Columbus April 5 and in Pittsburgh on April 6).