Practice Report: Concussion concerns after Zibanejad diagnosed with 5th in career and more

During warmups before Tuesday night’s matchup with the Florida Panthers, Mika Zibanejad was taken out of the New York Rangers lineup for an “Upper Body Injury.” David Desharnais took Zibanejad’s spot on the KZB line for the game which resulted in the Rangers dropping a see-saw type of game decided by a late minute turnover in the defensive zone.

Postgame, Head Coach Alain Vigneault said Mika came in tonight, tried it in warmup and just wasn’t able to go. I’ll know more. I just found out that he was going to try in warm-up so I will have more tomorrow for you.” (1:08 mark of the video below)

Today in practice

Justin Tasch of the NY Daily News reported Zibanejad was not on the ice. David Desharnais was skating in his place alongside Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich.

Upper Body Injury?

Yes, an “Upper Body Injury” is purposely vague to leave some question as to the exact nature of the injury. However, in this case, it is now known that Zibanejad is out due to a concussion.

Let’s unwrap this

David Desharnais was used on the top line in Zibanejad’s spot against Florida and it looks like that will remain the same going forward leading into Friday’s matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes. Some questioned Desharnais’ use on that line, going from a healthy scratch to first line center after the first period including yours truly.

I was wrong, as moving Desharnais off that line was not the solution. After that first period, the line of Kreider-Desharnais-Buchnevich (KDB?) combined for three of the Rangers four goals (or combined for nine points however you want to look at it). Kreider had two goals and an assist, Buchnevich had a goal and two assists and Desharnais finished off the night with three assists.

Most of the team was invisible in the first period but the lights came on in the second and third periods as well.

Much of the call and questioning of taking Desharnais off that line had to do with what some called “drastic swings” by AV in player use. Moving a healthy scratch to first line center didn’t make sense to me at first, but I’ve started to see his logic. The lines of Nash-Hayes-Vesey, as well as the newly formed combination of Grabner-Miller-Zuccarello, have been meshing well. Especially the combination of Nash and Hayes, and the potential dynamic developing between Grabner, Miller, and Zuccarello, It didn’t make sense to disrupt those lines without first trying Desharnais on the top line.

In hindsight, juggling the lines after the first would be letting Kreider and Buchnevich “off the hook” with Zibanejad not in the lineup. Speculation on my part solely leads me to believe that sometimes a linemate going down can create a subconscious built-in excuse for players.

As a final word on Zibanejad, he will be missed in the Rangers lineup for however long he is out. As Rick Carpiniello mentioned, “he’s out indefinitely,” and when it comes to a concussion, a player must clear concussion protocol before re-entering the lineup. For more on the NHL’s Concussion Protocol feel free to read it here.

It is now known that the concussion symptoms came from a hit Zibanejad took from Darren Helm on Friday against Detroit. It seems he had gone through the concussion protocol and was cleared to play on Sunday against Vancouver and then Tuesday reported symptoms. As per the NHL Concussion Protocol, Zibanejad now will need to be re-evaluated and go through the protocol again.

Also on the Injury front

Rangers Captain Ryan McDonagh had missed the team’s last four games due to an abdominal strain that he was playing through most of the season, yet it had worsened as the games went on and maintenance days weren’t enough to manage the injury. Today in practice, Ryan McDonagh was skating on the top pairing alongside Nick Holden. Moving Brendan Smith back to pair with Marc Staal.

All in all, this is the right move. Smith filled in nicely for McDonagh, as did Steven Kampfer and Nick Holden in stepping up their roles playing many of McDonagh’s minutes. Both Holden and Smith averaged about 20+ minutes of TOI and the Skjei-Shattenkirk pairing really stepped up their usage, playing more than 23 minutes per night during the stretch.

Holden makes the most sense to keep playing alongside McDonagh and despite his turnover on Florida’s game-winning goal, he’s played fairly well when tasked. The questions will continue to come in why Smith isn’t McDonagh’s partner and it’s a fair question, but one which I’ll have to say that for the time being, McDonagh and Holden give the Rangers defense more balance throughout the lineup.

Final Note

Last season, when Mika Zibanejad went out with an injury on November 20th against the Florida Panthers, (hmmm) the New York Rangers were off to a strong start 19 games into the year. The team was 13-5-1 (.710%) and Zibanejad had gotten off to a solid start himself, notching five goals and ten assists in the 19 games.

Over the course of the next 26 games, the Rangers were 15-11 (.576%) without him and the team missed his production in the lineup. Upon returning on January 17th, the team went 20-12-5 (.608%) as Zibanejad scored 9G, 13A down the stretch.

This time though, Zibanejad’s role is much bigger than it was last year. Whether he’s out for a short period of time or a longer period, the hope is that the entire roster is able to step up it’s play in his absence as he’s a vital part of not just the teams top scoring line, but the power play as well.

The addition of Peter Holland should help strengthen the team’s depth up the middle as well and I could see him getting worked in on the fourth line at some point as an extra forward with center experience.

Update & Speculation:

This is now Mika Zibanejad’s 5th concussion he’s suffered according to Murray Pam, a contributor to Sporting News Canada. One in SEL, Bingo, two with the Senators and now this one.

To make matters more concerning, the timeline worries me. He suffered the concussion on Friday November 24th versus Detroit with 7 minutes left to play. He cleared concussion protocol and played a full game two days later versus Vancouver. Apparently symptoms returned Tuesday morning and he made it all the way to warmups and only until today was it referred to as a Concussion. The question does come up if another collision versus Vancouver may have caused the most recent symptoms. According to the NHLPA Concussion Protocol;

A Player may return to unrestricted play at a time later than the day the event occurred if the following three circumstances have occurred: (1) there is complete recovery of concussion-related symptoms at rest; (2) there is no emergence of concussion-related symptoms at exertion levels required for competitive play; and (3) the player has been judged by the Club’s Physician to have returned to his neurocognitive baseline following an evaluation by the Club consulting neuropsychologist.

This says to me Zibanejad was fully recovered and it wasn’t something that the team missed. In theory (and purely speculation) you don’t have symptoms return like this and I worry that this is more. Concussions aren’t like other injuries where they can get worse. Once the symptoms are gone, they are gone. (See all the coverage of Sidney Crosby’s concussion return in the playoffs last year.)


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