In late November, New York Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad suffered a concussion and would remain out of the lineup indefinitely. Now, several weeks later, Zibanejad still remains sidelined and his timetable for return remains misty. Prior to the Rangers game on Friday against the Los Angeles Kings, head coach Alain Vigneault had this to say regarding Zibanejad- “He’s following the protocol, he skated on his own yesterday. He’s improving…we’ve got a practice on Monday and he’ll practice with us.” (Via ABC 7 NY)
New York Rangers Finding Their Groove
When Zibanejad initially suffered his injury, many Rangers fans thought that his absence would hurt the team. He was a top line center and a key component of the power-play unit as well. With Zibanejad, the Rangers already do not have enough depth at the forward position, so now without him, it hurts even more. But one thing is for certain, and that is that even with Zibby out of the lineup, the Rangers are still finding a way to win games and earn those ever so coveted points. There have been several key players in assuring these wins.
There is no surprise that the little Norwegian winger is playing such a large role with the Rangers this season. Mats Zuccarello has always been a big part of the Rangers offence and this season he is showing the fans yet again why he is so reliable. Zuccarello is a veteran on this Rangers squad, so it is crucial that he produces. So far this season, Zuccarello has skated in 33 games and has tallied a total of 27 points (eight goals, 19 assists). A third of those points have come on the power-play as well.
In his last five games, Zuccarello has five points (three goals, two assists) and in his last ten games played he has a total of nine points (four goals, five assists). Those ten games played date back to Nov. 26, the game after Mika Zibanejad got injured. So safe to say that the Rangers, although the miss Mika, have nothing to worry about as long as Zucc stays healthy.
Zuccarello uses his small frame to maneuver his body around opposing players as wella s his speed to beat them to the puck. He is not afraid to get into a scrum and likes to get into the boards to fight for loose pucks. Coming from a player who stands at 5’8″, that’s pretty darn impressive.
Fourth Line Success
Another component of the Rangers ability to maintain afloat amidst the absence of Zibanejad is their fourth line. Made up of Paul Carey, Boo Nieves, and Jesper Fast, this fourth line has been quite impressive. But it did not start out that way. For the first month of the season, the Rangers fourth line struggled. Adam Cracknell was initially a part of it but has since departed from the team. However, after the Zibanejad injury, Paul Carey was called up and filled the vacant role, and Boo Nieves was slotted into the fourth center position.
Nieves brings the speed and skill of the fourth line, Fast the “multi-tool Swiss Army Knife” so-to-say, bringing many qualities and skills to the line, and Paul Carey fills the role of a physical player. Having a reliable and effective fourth line is necessary in today’s NHL. Teams need to be able to rely on their fourth line to get the job done and play strong. The Rangers have been known for strong fourth lines in the past (Brian Boyle, Brandon Prust, Dominic Moore, etc.).
The Rangers just beat the incumbent 2x Stanley Cup champs on the road without Henrik Lundqvist and their top point producer. They did so on the backs of Ondrej Pavelec and two fourth line goals. Hockey!
— Adam Herman (@AdamZHerman) December 6, 2017
In 21 games played, Paul Carey has scored twice and has added three assists. In 28 games played, Jesper Fast has scored seven goals and has tacked on eight helpers. Boo Nieves, who has appeared in 19 games, has scored a single goal and has tallied five apples.
Michael Grabner Coming Up Big
Another player who has been a huge help lately for the Rangers is Michael Grabner. The speedy forward returned this season after having a successful 40 point season in 2016-17. So far this year, Grabner has a total of 19 points in 33 games played (16 goals, three assists). Grabner has been using his speed to defy the odds and beat opponents to the puck and wheel through the neutral zone. He leads the Rangers in goals and also in empty-netter goals. Six of his goals have come when the opponents’ goalie is pulled. He had a hat trick on Dec. 1 against the Carolina Hurricanes, with two of the goals coming from empty netters. Grabner is an effective forward, using grit and determination to fight his way to the puck and score/generate offence.
— NHL (@NHL) December 17, 2017
If Grabner wishes to continue scoring, and not empty net goals, he needs to up his shooting percentage. As of now, he is shooting at around 23%. At this rate, he will need to obviously shoot more. Playing on a line mainly with Rick Nash, this is very possible. Between the two of them, both forwards play a tough game of hockey and know how to generate offence.
Mika Zibanejad is likely to return after the New Year. With the holiday break quickly approaching, the Ranges only have a handful of games left. If they wish to continue to win and earn points, all of the players discussed above will have to keep on track. Add that to the play of Henrik Lundqvist, which has been increasingly better as of late, there is no need to worry. After Zibby returns from injury, expect Paul Carey to be bumped down to the AHL. With Zibanejad back, the Rangers will be looking to get their dangerous edge back. But for right now, there is nothing to worry about.
Big win for RangersTown in Boston! 👏👏👏 pic.twitter.com/4Hs6feTFHJ
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) December 17, 2017
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