CALGARY, Alberta — Saturday’s morning skate had ended and slumping Mika Zibanejad was one of the last skaters still on the ice. It has become a common sight.
“When I’m not feeling great about my game, like right now, sometimes just to be around the ice, just screw around or whatever you want to call it, shoot and pass a little bit, just to find like . . . I don’t know if happiness is the right word . . . something that maybe helps me get out of that funk,” Zibanejad said at Scotiabank Saddledome before the Rangers faced the Flames. “I’m trying to find positives and keep building on that.”
The 23-year-old Swedish center, acquired from Ottawa in exchange for Derick Brassard in mid-July, came out of the gate with a bang: He had two assists on opening night against the Islanders, a goal and an assist in St. Louis in the second game, a goal against the Red Wings and an assist against the Capitals to post five points in five games as a Blueshirt.
But then the points, particularly goals, were hard to come by: No goals in the next nine games, and just three assists. Injuries to linemates — Chris Kreider (neck spasms) and Pavel Buchnevich (back spasms) didn’t help.
“I feel like I haven’t been — don’t want to say competing — but determined in my battles; it’s just one of those things that’s gotten away from my game a little bit,” he said. “Offense comes with that as well; it’s just something I have to keep reminding myself. I’ve done it before, I’ve just got to get back, just stop talking and play. It has been frustrating . . . If you look at my first four or five games, I felt like I had the puck a lot more; it’s not just my teammates, it’s me being able to support my linemates and the D and try to get the puck and try to man the puck a little bit more. I haven’t done a great job with it lately, but I feel like it’s kind of creeping up and I’m starting to get it back.”
Against the Canucks on Tuesday, he snapped the skid with his third goal, with the Rangers trailing 5-2 in the third period.
“It didn’t mean much, but it could personally,” said Zibanejad, who has 10 points in 14 games. “It was good to get one of those things off my mind, now I feel at least I have that memory . . . that I can see the puck cross the goal line for once. I hope that sparks something.”
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault acknowledged that there had been chemistry with Kreider and “when Kreids went down, Mika’s play slipped a little bit, but I like his effort. His compete level the last couple of games has been a lot better, he’s been working extremely hard, and spending a lot of time video-wise trying to figure out where he can improve. He’s a young player and in my mind, he’s only going to get better.”
In his first 14 games with the Senators last season, Zibanejad was 2-8-10, and closed with 10 goals in the final 20 games to finish with 21 goals and 51 points. “It’s going to be up and down during the season,” he said. “You just want to make sure those downs are not real deep and get out of it as soon as possible.’’