PREVIEW: Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers look to up momentum against Washington Capitals

By Field Level Media
Jan 16, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) celebrates after a goal by right wing Pavel Buchnevich (not pictured) against New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) during the first period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett /POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

Nearly 11 months ago, Mika Zibanejad produced one of the NHL’s most memorable performances by capping a five-goal night with a game-winning overtime goal to help the New York Rangers get a 6-5 win over the Washington Capitals on March 5. Shortly after his dynamic performance, the league was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and his five-goal game constantly re-aired on channels looking to fill programming hours.

His performance last March was part of a career-high 41-goal season, but Zibanejad and the Rangers are off to a slow start so far, and New York seeks consecutive wins for the first time this season Thursday night when it hosts Washington.

New York is 2-0-1 since losing four in a row and Zibanejad’s only goal was Jan. 19 against the New Jersey Devils. He does not have a goal in his last six games, a stretch in which New York played five one-goal games.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Rangers, check out #NYR rumors, rankings, and news here.

“We’ve got five of our last six points, and we’re hanging around,” New York coach David Quinn said. “We continue to do that and continue to improve and get some guys game back on track, we’re going to be in the middle of it.”

The Rangers are coming off one of their better performances when they rebounded from Saturday’s 5-4 overtime loss to Pittsburgh and posted a 3-1 win over the Penguins on Monday. Chris Kreider scored the tiebreaking power-play goal in the third period while Artemi Panarin scored an empty-net goal and added two assists to cap an eventful day after the Rangers said defenseman Tony DeAngelo would never play another game for them after he was waived Sunday.

“It was very important — and it always important for us win, especially right now after the past two or three games,” Panarin said. “I’m very happy that we finally won.”

Igor Shesterkin made 25 saves, helped the Rangers kill off six power plays and Quinn said Wednesday he would play Thursday.

Washington is coming off its first regulation defeat after taking a 5-3 loss against the Boston Bruins on Monday. The Capitals won three in a row before allowing four goals in the third period, and it marked the second time they allowed at least five goals.

Zdeno Chara, Daniel Sprong and John Carlson scored while Jakub Vrana added two assists for the Capitals, who are easing Alex Ovechkin back into the lineup after he sat out four games to follow the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols. He scored the game-winner in overtime on Saturday and then played 23 minutes Monday when Washington was outshot 16-6 in the final 20 minutes.

“We weren’t going to go 56-0,” Washington center Nicklas Backstrom said. “We had the game going, we were in the lead. We should have been able to put up a better third period than we did.”

Related: If you’re a fan of the Capitals, check out #ALLCAPS rumors, rankings, and news here.

Ovechkin enters Thursday with 708 career goals and tied for seventh all-time with Mike Gartner on the all-time list. He has two goals and five assists so far in his first six games and scored twice in his last game against the Rangers.

While Ovechkin has returned, the Capitals will likely be without Evgeny Kuznetsov and goaltender Ilya Samsonov, who did not practice Wednesday as they work their back from quarantine due to being on the NHL’s COVID-19 unavailable list.

Samsonov’s role has been filled in by Vitek Vanecek, who is 5-1-2 with a 2.94 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.

–Field Level Media