WINNIPEG, Manitoba – Mika Zibanejad is starting to show that he isn’t just on a hot streak. He’s starting to look as if he’s becoming an elite NHL player.
He’s just not elite enough right now to carry the Rangers to an upset victory over one of the NHL’s elite teams: the Jets.
Zibanejad had two goals, the second of which came 57 seconds into the third period, and gave the Rangers their only lead of the game. But they couldn’t hold that lead, and ultimately fell, 4-3, in the first game of their four-game road trip. The loss dropped the Rangers to 24-24-8, with the dream of a playoff spot slipping further and further out of reach as the Feb. 25 trade deadline gets closer and closer.
“This one definitely stings,’’ defenseman Brady Skjei said. “We didn’t start off great, and the way we battled back the last two periods was something, and to not be able to finish that one out – that would have been a great road win for us. But I like the way we played the last 40 minutes. We’ve just got to put out that first period, too, and have a good hockey game.’’
After Zibanejad scored on the power play – his 25th goal of the season – the Jets tied the score at 5:22 of the third on the first goal of the season by defenseman Joe Morrow. They retook the lead at 7:21 when Andrew Copp finished a centering fed from Mason Appleton for his seventh goal of the season.
The Jets dominated the first period, outshooting the Rangers 19-10 and building a 2-0 lead on two goals by Mark Scheifele. Rangers coach David Quinn didn’t like the way his team played in the period..
“I just thought we played afraid,’’ he said. “We played on our heels. And that was something we talked about between the first and the second.’’
Zibanejad’s first goal of the game got the Rangers on the board at 38 seconds of the second period and Pavel Buchnevich tied the score at 2 on a power play goal with 40.6 seconds left in the period. Blake Wheeler’s tripping penalty with 17.7 seconds left in the second period gave the Rangers the power play that resulted in Zibanejad’s second goal – a centering pass from the left wing half-boards that bounced off two Jets players before getting behind Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
“Obviously, it’s nice to see the bounces go in,’’ said Zibanejad, who has 13 goals in his past 11 games. “But we didn’t win today, so it doesn’t matter.’’
Despite his team allowing 56 shots in Sunday’s 4-1 win over Toronto, Quinn stayed with the same lineup he used in that game, meaning he dressed seven defensemen for the second straight game.
“I think we’ve managed it better,’’ Quinn said before the game of the 11-forwards-and-seven-defensemen alignment. “Obviously, when you do something a little bit more frequently, you get more comfortable with it and you learn as you go along. But listen, the bottom line is we want to dress our best 18 skaters, and right now, we think seven of them are defensemen. There’s no rule that says you have to dress 12 and six.’’
The Rangers were set to fly home after the game. They will practice at home Thursday and go back on the road Friday at Buffalo against the Sabres.
Mazanec dealt to Canucks.With Vancouver in desperate need of a goaltender after injuries to No. 1 goalie Jakob Markstrom and backup Thatcher Demko, the Rangers dealt Hartford’s Marek Mazanec to the Canucks for a seventh-round draft pick in 2020.
It was the second 2020 seventh-round pick the Rangers acquired in a week, following last Wednesday’s trade of enforcer Cody McLeod to Nashville, also for a 2020 seventh rounder.
Demko has been out with a knee injury, and Markstrom was unable to play Sunday against San Jose because of what the team said was tightness in his lower body. Vancouver was forced to play 19-year-old Michael DiPietro, called up on an emergency basis from his junior team, Monday against the Sharks. They lost, 7-2.
Mazanec has played 40 games over the past two seasons with Hartford. He played 20 games this season and was 7-8-4, with a 3.01 goals against and a .903 save percentage for the Wolf Pack.