Replacing Zibanejad not possible, Rangers will need to step up as a group
The Rangers have payback on their mind tonight, but are going to be doing so without two sizable guns in their lineup: Mika Zibanejad (broken leg) and Pavel Buchnevich (back spasms, or worse).
Replacing Zibanejad is not possible because they don’t have a comparable right handed center to take his spot on the 2nd line or the PP. The claim of Matt Puempel from Ottawa is a depth move and another hand for Hartford at best.
OFFICIAL: #NYR have claimed forward Matt Puempel off waivers. pic.twitter.com/nJHc0cInEA
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) November 21, 2016
Hayes front and center
Kevin Hayes will be leaned on heavily in Zibanejad’s absence. Hayes has been averaging 16:14 of ice per game, and will see an increase in ice time starting tonight. Derek Stepan will also get some more, while Oscar Lindberg will pick up a bulk of the remaining 16:41 Zibanejad was averaging this season.
Brandon Pirri has played some center and could get time. Another possibility to get some minutes at center is J.T. Miller. While I feel his game is better suited for the wing, he does have enough experience there should Lindberg falter. The centers as group must all step up their game, but it is obvious that Kevin Hayes will have the biggest opportunity (and pressure) to impress.
Big Z’s Right Handed Shot on the PP
Sadly, this is where the loss of Zibanejad will hurt the most. Derek Stepan is the only legitimate right handed shot the Rangers have that can score from the left circle on the PP but he can’t play the full 2 minutes.
So here’s a thought, try either Jesper Fast or Josh Jooris on the 2nd PP. They are both right handed shots that could keep that balance for the Rangers. If it were up to me, I would try Jooris for his ability to play center and because he has a decent shot.
Again, there is no replacing Zibanejad, but a collective effort by some key guys could make the next 6-8 weeks a little easier to take.