Coming off a dynamic 41-goal season, Mika Zibanejad started slowly this season.
First, Zibanejad dealt with COVID-19, costing him a week of training camp. Then for most of the first two months of the campaign, he could not consistently score.
Zibanejad appears to be rolling lately, and the Rangers hope he can continue his recent production Monday night when they host the league-worst Buffalo Sabres, who are on a 13-game losing streak.
Zibanejad scored an unassisted tiebreaking goal with 2:32 left in the third period Saturday to lift New York to a 3-1 win over the host Washington Capitals, who entered on a seven-game winning streak. He also added an assist, giving him 10 points (four goals, six assists) in his last five games — including a six-point second period in Wednesday’s 9-0 rout of Philadelphia.
Zibanejad has seven goals and 12 assists overall, with five of those goals since March 4 when he was benched for 10 minutes in the second period at New Jersey.
“It feels nice when you can contribute offensively,” Zibanejad said. “That’s expected out of me. But I’ve said this before. I’ve been feeling pretty good the last few weeks and feel like myself again. I just try to play hard, try to play my game, and just trust that it will come.”
Zibanejad’s recent performances have helped the Rangers go 3-1-1 in their past five games since a three-game losing streak.
“I think the last three games, the way that we’ve been playing, looking at that last game against a really good team, we couldn’t get it done,” Zibanejad said. “But we just kept playing, It wasn’t pretty, but we found a way. That’s what we need.”
He is not the only Ranger on a hot streak. Pavel Buchnevich also scored Saturday night, giving the Russian winger six goals and nine assists over his last 10 games to take over the team lead in scoring with 28 points.
Buffalo is returning to the ice after its game on Saturday was postponed due to COVID-19 issues with the Boston Bruins. Since a 4-1 win at New Jersey on Feb. 23, the Sabres are 0-11-2. Buffalo is one setback shy of the longest skid in team history, set between Dec. 29, 2014-Jan. 30, 2015.
During their current skid, the Sabres have been outscored 54-20 and are 2-for-23 on the power play.
Buffalo is playing its second game since replacing coach Ralph Krueger with Don Granato on an interim basis on Wednesday. In the first game with Granato, the Sabres mustered 24 shots on goal in a 4-1 loss to the Bruins on Thursday.
Kyle Okposo scored a short-handed goal early in the second period Thursday, but the Sabres were held under two goals for the 10th time this season.
“A coach that I think everyone in the room would agree we all really liked was just let go and doesn’t have a job anymore because of how we were playing,” said Buffalo’s Taylor Hall, who has two goals this season. “So, we need to find a way to get together and win some hockey games.”
The Sabres are continuing to play without captain Jack Eichel, who has been out with an undisclosed injury since March 7.
New York is 9-3-0 in the past 12 meetings with Buffalo, including a 3-2 home win on March 2.
–Field Level Media