Mika Zibanejad has been like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Zac Jones scored his first point. What are the New York Rangers’ playoff hopes? And more…
Mika’s Dual Season
It’s been a tale of two seasons for Zibanejad. Going into Tuesday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, he had 34 points in his last 22 games on the heels of a hat trick against the Sabres on Sunday at Madison Square Garden. However, in his first 27 games of the shortened 2020-21 season, he was non-existent. With only 11 points, the dam broke.
Zibanejad turned his season around with a six-point night against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 28, notching three goals and three assists. Eight days later, he did it again (also against the Flyers), and everyone knew he was back.
He’s climbed to third on the team in scoring behind Artemi Panarin and Adam Fox with 45 points in 49 games. He also had the most hat tricks in the NHL (three) this season until the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid scored three goals on Monday night on his way to a “mundane” four-point night against the Winnipeg Jets. However, Zibanejad has six career hat tricks in a Rangers uniform, which puts him only behind Rod Gilbert (seven) and Bill Cook (10) in team history.
Jones Makes NHL Debut
Recent signee and NCAA champion Zac Jones made his NHL debut with the Blueshirts. He signed with the Rangers shortly after his UMass team won the Frozen Four, and he was named to the All-Tournament Team. He played just under 10 minutes in his NHL debut last week against the Flyers and had three shots on goal while being a minus-1. In the two games since then, he’s played 13:42 and 12:10, respectively, recording his first NHL point in his third game with an assist on Kaapo Kakko’s goal.
Jones’ UMass coach, Greg Carvel, knew the 5-foot-11, 185-pound defenseman would crack an NHL lineup sooner than later, saying, “Zac is an NHL player, it’s just a matter of time. … He’s a high, high-end offensive player. He’ll be a similar player to Adam Fox. … His growth without the puck the last two years has been outstanding” (credit – NHL Network). That’s pretty lofty praise considering the season Fox is having.
Entering Tuesday’s game against the Sabres, the Rangers trailed the Boston Bruins by four points for the fourth and final playoff spot in the MassMutual East Division with seven games remaining. However, the Bruins have two games in hand. But, the teams play each other in their final two games of the season for what could be a nail-biting finish to the 2020-21 regular season.
The Blueshirts almost got caught looking past the Sabres Tuesday but were able to come through with a victory. Interim head coach Don Granato has Buffalo playing much better, and the Rangers almost paid the price for it. It might not show in the standings, but they’re much more competitive and they make the opposition earn their space.
For the remaining six games, the Rangers play the NY Islanders twice and Washington Capitals twice before facing the Bruins. They have their work cut out for them and will need some help from the Pittsburgh Penguins, who face the Bruins while the Rangers are facing the Sabres on Tuesday. They’ll also need some help from the Sabres and New Jersey Devils, who face the boys from Beantown twice each before the two games with the Rangers.
The chances that the Blueshirts will make the playoffs this time around aren’t great. However, stranger things have happened, so we’ll see how it plays out. Working against the Rangers is that the games against the Bruins are in Boston.
Rangers Sign Another Prospect
Will Cuylle, the Rangers’ second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, signed with the team last week. Cuylle has been skating with the Hartford Wolf Pack this season since he can’t play for the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League since their season was canceled. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound forward has five points in 13 games while racking up 26 penalty minutes with the Rangers’ farm club.
Scott Blair is an author and journalist from Los Angeles, CA, by way of Detroit, MI. Uniquely diverse experiences have shaped Scott’s life in both of those places he calls home. He is now traveling the world, learning and growing as a human and a writer. He was a professional hockey player and then turned to the arts, becoming an actor for about 15 years. His passions turned to poetry, prose, politics, and journalism when he got tired of the Hollywood machine and what it represents. Scott is available for interviews and welcomes questions and topic ideas.