After a gruesome injury to Mika Zibanejad that will cost him at least six weeks of his first season in New York, the Rangers will have to resort to the next man up mentality to fill Zibanejad’s spot for at least the next six weeks.
That spot will not be easy to fill, but Rangers fans everywhere can thank their lucky stars that Zibanejad’s injury isn’t as gruesome as it may have looked live. Fans can also be cautiously optimistic about the depth that this team has proven to have this season.
Lindberg’s Redemption Tour
As brutally honest as it may seem, Oscar Lindberg will need to play at a much higher level than what he has so far this season on both sides of the puck. With three stick infraction penalties over his last two games, he will have to seriously improve his discipline if he wants to contribute on a nightly basis.
As everyone knows, Henrik Lundqvist is a much, much better goaltender when the Rangers are even-strength. That means that Lindberg will need to be much more disciplined and play to his strengths if he wants to be an important part of the team for the remainder of the season.
Offensively, Lindberg’s lack of production isn’t much to worry about. Over 68 games, Lindberg produced at a very high-level last season in an average 12 minutes of ice time per game. Lindberg will be filling in on a much-improved bottom-six with playmakers, so expect him to produce good scoring chances as he did many times last season on the way to a very solid rookie year.
Filling Zibanejad’s Roles
For anyone who’s watched the Rangers so far this year, seeing Zibanejad wind up for a one-timer on the power play is a very inviting sight for a team that hasn’t been above a 20% power play percentage since 1998. With the loss of one of the trigger forwards on the power play, Chris Kreider, Jimmy Vesey and Rick Nash will need to step up their scoring in Zibanejad’s absence. The power play has been vastly improved this season which leaves a glimmer of hope that they can keep scoring on the power play regardless of who is on the ice.
Along with the power play, Zibanejad will also be missed on the faceoff dot. In the faceoff circle, Zibanejad had the second highest percentage of anybody on the team with over 50 faceoffs taken at a crisp 52.4% behind only Brandon Pirri at 60.5%. Nobody else on the roster is over 50% which could end up being one of the Rangers most significant flaws as the season progresses. Josh Jooris and Oscar Lindberg will likely step in the circle and take over the majority of Zibanejad’s draws while he recovers. This youth depth hasn’t been extremely challenged in the faceoff circle yet, so Jooris and Lindberg will both be extremely important moving forward if the team wants to be successful.
Josh Jooris and Oscar Lindberg will likely step in the circle and take over the majority of Zibanejad’s draws while he recovers. This youth depth hasn’t been extremely challenged in the faceoff circle yet, so Jooris and Lindberg will both be extremely important moving forward if the team wants to be successful.
Depth Always Helps
The beauty of the Rangers so far this year is the favorable outcomes they have had without important players already. So far this year, Chris Kreider, Pavel Buchnevich and Kevin Klein have all missed parts of the season with injuries and with Zibanejad out for the next few weeks, that trend will continue.
Even without those very important players, the Rangers have still found a way to lead the Metropolitan Division since the second week of the season. The depth will need to step up once again with a tough schedule coming up within the next few weeks starting off with a home-road series with the Penguins.
Bottom line, if the Rangers can continue their winning ways while missing Buchnevich for a few more games and Zibanejad for the foreseeable future there will be a sigh of relief from those who have been used to seeing the team constantly struggle without their healthy roster.
General manager Jeff Gorton has done a wonderful job so far creating a roster set to deal with adversity and with great goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta, these next few weeks will fly by and hopefully the wins will keep on coming.