Rangers seek offense without Zibanejad vs. Hurricanes
When the New York Rangers take the ice against the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden on Friday night, they will do so without top center Mika Zibanejad but could have No. 1 defenseman Ryan McDonagh back in the lineup.
The Rangers’ leading scorer was a late scratch Tuesday and it was revealed by the team Thursday that he’s dealing with a concussion.
“My understanding is when he got hit against Detroit — at the end of the game, he got hit by (Darren) Helm in the corner — it didn’t seem like much,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault told Newsday on Thursday. “My understanding is he did talk to the docs after. Felt fine. We had an optional (practice) the next day. Came in. Did off-ice (work). Played the next game. Felt fine. He had a day off on Monday and then he came in for our morning skate (Tuesday) and wasn’t feeling well. Had symptoms.”
But replacing Zibanejad’s offense (11 goals, 11 assists) at even strength and on the power play will be difficult.
“Obviously a dynamic player, an integral part of our team and a guy that was really feeling it and having a great season, a lot of skill,” Rangers forward Chris Kreider told the New York Post. “But at the same time, that’s part of it over an 82-game season. You have to have that ‘next man up’ mentality.”
With Zibanejad out indefinitely, the Rangers bolstered their center depth by acquiring Peter Holland from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Adam Cracknell. The 26-year-old Holland hasn’t played in the NHL this season but has 35 goals and 81 points in 243 career games.
“Our guys were able to make a deal today that gives us a little bit more depth in the middle,” Vigneault told the New York Post. “He’s got some experience. So he’s going to go to Hartford (of the AHL), get some minutes, and he’s definitely a guy that we could call up in the future.”
There is good news for the Rangers with McDonagh, who has missed the past four games with an abdominal strain. He practiced Thursday and if he responds favorably Friday, he will play against the Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes (10-8-5) have lost three of four, including a 6-1 drubbing at the hands of the Rangers at home Nov. 22. They haven’t won in regulation since Nov. 19 but earned three of four points in their two most recent games. They lost 3-2 in a shootout to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday but rallied for a tying goal in the third period.
“The third period was our best period,” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said to the media. “It was a battle all night. We didn’t execute very well, but then the best part of our execution and the best part of our game was the third.”
With the Hurricanes three points behind the Rangers with two games in hand, this is a big early-season clash for Carolina. Both teams are just below the cutoff line for the playoffs and two points now could make the difference in April.
“You can just look at the standings and figure it out,” Peters said when asked if there’s extra motivation to play the Rangers now. “The standings are up on the board. The line is drawn where the wild card is. So it’s pretty straight-forward.”
And if that’s not enough, avenging a five-goal loss as they continue a stretch where they play eight of nine games on the road will be an added incentive.
The taste is still there from the last game,” Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin said to the media. “But it’s a long season. We have a lot of opportunities to get them back for that game. (Friday) night is huge for us. It’ll be a good test to start that road trip.”