Do the Rangers, a fragile team for much of the season, have some swagger back?
Mika Zibanejad thought so, even before the trio of power-play goals in the third period that dispatched the Blue Jackets, 5-3, on Monday for their fourth win in a row.
After practice on Sunday, Zibanejad pointed to the winning streak as the start of a turnaround.
“Against Vegas we came back, and the way we played in Tampa and Florida, it gives us more confidence by winning in different ways,” said Zibanejad, who had a career-high three assists on Monday’s third-period power plays. “Just winning a few in a row gives you comfort; you feel like you have a little more swagger, it’s ‘We’re going to find a way to win this game.’ Last year we had a great start and we kind of rode that; we’re starting to get back to that.”
Last season, after being acquired from Ottawa for Derick Brassard, Zibanejad came out of the gates sizzling, with 15 points in the first 19 games. But his year was derailed against Florida 41 seconds into overtime at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 20. He got tangled with Reilly Smith while chasing the puck and crashed awkwardly into the end boards, breaking his left fibula. Zibanejad missed 25 games and with the injury on his mind after his return, he admitted that he was hesitant and not as aggressive until March.
Now, Zibanejad certainly has some swagger back.
The 24-year-old center has been a force, particularly on the power play, which is developing some chemistry and has risen to No. 6 in the NHL.
He leads the Rangers in points with 17 (eight goals, nine assists) in 16 games. He was tied with Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel for second overall in power-play points with 10 and won two critical faceoffs on power-play goals on Monday.
“We’ve been talking about winning puck battles, outworking the opponent on the power play,” he said. “I think to show them different threats, to not be a one-trick pony, that’s important. If we want to be a good team, we have to find ways to win even though we are down coming into the third.”
On the first unit, Zibanejad sets up for one-timers at the left circle in the offensive zone, with Kevin Shattenkirk on the right point and Mats Zuccarello on the left. Chris Kreider posts up in front and Pavel Buchnevich handles the right side. There are weapons, and options.
Zibanejad said he has benefited from the righthanded Shattenkirk, who can find him open easier than a lefty would, or pull the trigger or set up Zuccarello or Buchnevich, with Kreider screening the goalie.
“I’m getting clear lanes because everyone is [sliding] over to Mika because he is such a threat,” Shattenkirk said. “I’m getting shots through because they have to pick someone [to cover].”
The potent power play will be tested by the Bruins (6-4-3), who visit the Garden on Wednesday. Boston ranks third on the penalty kill. The Rangers (7-7-2) can’t afford to revert to being a one-trick pony.