NEW YORK — Mika Zibanejad is expected to return to the lineup when the New York Rangers host the Anaheim Ducks at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.
When Zibanejad left the lineup with a concussion in late-November, he was the Rangers leading scorer and driving force on team’s top power-play unit.
The Rangers are 5-3-1 without Zibanejad and have averaged 3.1 goals per game over that time.
The power play, however, is just 5-for-27 (18.5 percent) in Zibanejad’s absence, which is about four points below the season average prior to Zibanejad’s injury. But he was back at practice Monday and expects to be ready to go against the Ducks.
“It’s obviously tough to be out and tough to watch, but always fun, too, to come back,” Zibanejad said to Newsday. “I think this is the right time. We took it step by step, and it was another step (Monday) to practice on my line. So far so good.”
Zibanejad’s role on the power play is on the left side, where his right-handed shot is used to one-time pucks from the face-off circle. But the Rangers lacked a suitable replacement, which meant defenses didn’t have to worry about one-timers from that side of the ice with the Rangers deploying four left-handed shots and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.
“I think he just makes our power play so much more dangerous instantly,” Shattenkirk said to Newsday. “He’s a huge weapon on that side, not only the way he shoots the puck, but he makes a lot of poise plays as well that seem to calm everything down when we need it. He does the same thing five-on-five.”
The Rangers (18-12-3) are coming off back-to-back wins over the weekend while the Ducks (14-12-8) lost 5-3 in New Jersey on Monday night to the Devils, marking the first time the Ducks failed to earn a point since Dec. 1.
That statistic doesn’t necessarily indicate a hot streak, as the Ducks were 3-0-4 before losing to the Devils.
The Ducks squandered a 2-0 first-period lead against the Devils and rank 30th in the league in points percentage when leading after the first period and 29th when leading after two periods.
Holding leads has been a problem all season for the Ducks, who will face a rested Rangers team that has the seventh-best record this season when trailing after two periods.
“I think we stopped skating and then we stopped sharing the puck,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. “I thought we had opportunities to move the puck effectively in the second period and we didn’t.”
“They kept coming,” said Ducks center Adam Henrique, who scored a highlight-reel goal in his first game against the Devils since last month’s trade to Anaheim. “We sat back in the second half of the game. We just have to manage that a little better.”
For all of their struggles holding leads this season, the Ducks are 3-0-3 in the second half of back-to-backs this season.
“We have to have more energy and play better than we did the last two periods, that’s going to be our goal,” Carlyle said. “If we focus on that, play for 60 minutes, we think we’re going to be a pretty effective hockey club.”