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Mika Zibanejad's absence will test Rangers

Forward out 6-8 weeks because of broken fibula sustained Sunday against Panthers

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

The thud heard at Madison Square Garden 41 seconds into overtime Sunday was New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad's left leg crashing hard and awkwardly into the end boards, buckling in an unpleasant way, enough to break the fibula bone, an injury that will keep him out for 6-8 weeks.

The aftershocks of Zibanejad's injury will be felt throughout the Rangers lineup for the duration of his absence, starting Monday when the Rangers play the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena (7 p.m. ET; MSG, ROOT, NHL.TV).

Adversity has found its way inside the Rangers dressing room after 19 mostly blissful, goal-filled, entertaining games that featured 13 wins and 27 points.

All of a sudden the Rangers are without two of their most skilled forwards in Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich, who will be out an estimated three weeks, according to coach Alain Vigneault, because of a back injury that requires him to strengthen his core muscles.

Zibanejad has five goals and 15 points in 19 games, including two goals and four points in the past three games. Buchnevich has four goals and eight points in 10 games.

"Every team has injuries and we don't expect to be any different than anybody else," Vigneault said. "Every coach says it in these moments, it's an opportunity for somebody else to get more ice time. We are confident with our guys."

Oscar Lindberg is going to get a chance to get extended playing time, something he hasn't had in games or practice time this season after coming off hip surgery this past summer. He's been scratched seven times in the past 14 games and has played more as an eighth defensemen than a forward in practice.

Lindberg will play against the Penguins, starting on the fourth line with Josh Jooris and Jesper Fast.

Vigneault is moving Kevin Hayes up in the lineup to play him between Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider. He is also moving Michael Grabner up to play him on the left side of Derek Stepan and Rick Nash.

In addition, Brandon Pirri is moving up to center the Rangers' third line in between Jimmy Vesey and J.T. Miller. That line might not see much time if Vigneault has to shorten the bench in the third period.

The Rangers added a 13th forward Monday when they claimed Matt Puempel, who played seven games with the Ottawa Senators this season, off waivers.

Regardless of all these decisions for the game Monday, losing Zibanejad and coupling it with a potential long-term injury to Buchnevich should sting the Rangers at a time when it looks like some of the shine is coming off of their offense.

The Rangers have scored two goals in each of their past two games after scoring three or more in nine straight, including five or more in six of them. They lead the NHL with 76 goals, 4.00 per game, but perhaps the inevitable market correction is occurring now.

They were scoring on 14.6 percent of their shots (72 on 494) in their first 17 games. No team has shot more than 12 percent since the Buffalo Sabres finished 12.6 percent in the 2006-07 season. The only team that has shot at least 11 percent since is the Washington Capitals (11.6) in the 2009-10 season, when they scored 3.82 goals per game, the most by any team since the 1995-96 season. No team has come close to that 3.82 since.

The Dallas Stars led the League last season at 10.1 percent shooting and 3.23 goals per game.

The Rangers could theoretically be an outlier this season, but since they probably don't have a 50-goal scorer or a 100-point player, the better bet is that they're going to experience a regression in their shooting percentage and goals per game, especially without Zibanejad and Buchnevich in the lineup.

However, the good news is that the Rangers' story so far this season has not been led by goalie Henrik Lundqvist. He was THE story in the first quarter last season, when the Rangers were 16-3-2 and Lundqvist had a 1.74 goals-against average and .946 save percentage in 17 appearances.

They eventually fell back to the pack and finished third in the Metropolitan Division.

Lundqvist has been good with a 2.27 GAA and .918 save percentage in 15 appearances. They are numbers right around his NHL career averages coming into the season (.921 and 2.28), but he hasn't put together one of his hot streaks yet, the kind of run that has helped him be a top goalie for a decade, that helped the Rangers get off to a great start last season.

If the Rangers are in the process of seeing some of their offensive numbers dip, it could come at a time when Lundqvist gets hot. He has allowed two or fewer goals in four of his past five starts. The Rangers are 0-4-1 when scoring two or fewer goals this season, but Lundqvist has the ability to get New York some wins in those types of low-scoring games.

Lundqvist isn't expected to play against the Penguins on Monday, but he should be the starter when the Rangers face Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

So there was a thud and the aftershocks will be felt for a while, but the Rangers had to know adversity was lurking around the corner the way it is every season for every team. It's here now and their offense probably will take a hit, but it's not a reason to panic.

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