Zibanejad NYR on scoring role TUNE IN TONIGHT

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Mika Zibanejad isn't reading too much into his production through five games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"The puck has gone in," the New York Rangers center said Monday. "The guys who I have been passing to have scored. It becomes noticeable."


Zibanejad has 10 points in five games, all wins. He has three goals, including two in the first period of 4-3 win against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Second Round at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. He also had an assist.

He had seven points (one goal, six assists) in a first-round sweep of the Washington Capitals. He has points in every game, including at least two in four straight.

Zibanejad is tied for second in the NHL in postseason scoring with Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl, two behind Edmonton’s Connor McDavid. All three have played five games.

"I don't think I've changed my game," Zibanejad said. "Obviously, the confidence level is different. When the puck doesn't go in, even though you feel like you're creating chances, you can't compare the confidence then to when you score. It's obviously different. I feel like I've been playing some good hockey to this point and I'm just trying to keep going."

CAR@NYR R2, Gm1: Zibanejad zips in slick feed from Kreider for PPG and his second of the game

Zibanejad and the Rangers will look to keep it going in Game 2 on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN, SN, CBC, TVAS).

That Zibanejad is scoring is not a surprise. He's supposed to score. That's part of his job as a top-line center and mainstay on a first power-play unit.

It's the rate at which he's scoring that has eyebrows raised.

Zibanejad had a down season compared to the standard he had set for himself. He had 72 points (26 goals, 42 assists) in 81 games, 13 fewer goals and 19 fewer points in one less game than he had in 2022-23.

In fact, Zibanejad's 0.32 goals per game was his lowest output since he averaged 0.25 in 2016-17, when a broken leg limited him to 56 games (14 goals). His 0.89 points per game was the lowest since 2017-18, when he had 47 points in 72 games (0.65 points per game).

So it begs the question, has Zibanejad elevated his game in the playoffs or is the puck, as he said, just going in?

"Probably a little bit of both, but I think there is a natural bump up because it's the playoffs. I think that's what's happens," Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said. "I think he's working to be a difference-maker inside of the game. Some of that is on him and what he's trying to accomplish and do out there. I think some of it is based on the circumstance that we're in the second round, we're playing a team that finished third in the league, they're a great hockey team and we've got to make sure we're ready to play."

Zibanejad never felt that he was struggling during the regular season even though there were stretches when the puck wasn't going in.

He scored two goals in the last 10 games of the season -- both in the same game. He had no points in six straight from Feb. 24-March 9, one goal in 16 games from Dec. 30-Feb. 7, no goals and two assists in eight games from Nov. 2-22, and no goals in the first seven games of the season.

"It's one thing if we're barely making the playoffs and I'm not contributing, but we played well enough to win the Presidents' Trophy," Zibanejad said. "I go out there and try to do my best and do whatever I can in that situation. If things are not clicking offensively I know I have other areas I can contribute and I know I can't just let that go.

“If I was really worried about that then I would start cheating for offense and that would probably impact me and the team negatively. I think in terms of the goals and the points for an offensive guy they will come, I've been just trying to focus on doing the right things and when I have a chance to attack the game."

CAR@NYR R2, Gm1: Zibanejad buries the feed from Roslovic for the first goal of the Second Round

Laviolette said he sees the 31-year-old attacking the game in the playoffs.

"His speed is noticeable," Laviolette said. "His compete on the puck. For me, when he's attacking the game he becomes really dangerous."

He was in Game 1, driving to the net while linemate Jack Roslovic used his speed to get around Carolina defenseman Dmitry Orlov. Roslovic wrapped the puck around the net to Zibanejad in front for a tap in to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead at 2:46 of the first period.

Zibanejad scored on the power play to make it 2-1 at 10:05 of the first.

But it's more than that.

It's the way Zibanejad is pushing the defense back when the Rangers are moving the puck up the ice. It's how he's defending on the penalty kill, pressuring at the points, forcing turnovers, pouncing when shorthanded offensive opportunities open.

Then there was his play at the defensive blue line late in the third period with the Hurricanes hunting for the game-tying goal in a 6-on-5 situation. Zibanejad broke up their zone entry with a strong stick and body positioning, and nearly scored into the empty net.

"He's got an unbelievable stick," Chris Kreider said. "The play that he made at the end of the game to deny the line that you notice and actually ask about in the postgame press conference, he does that multiple times every game. He does it all season long but that's not the narrative when it should be. He should be a Selke (Trophy, best defensive forward) candidate constantly. He always does those little things. When he's in a big moment like that it's like, 'Oh, he does it all the time.' "

Except, Zibanejad didn't score in the regular season the way he is in the playoffs. So, yes, 10 points in five games is noticeable.

"It's not easy to score big points in the playoffs so for him to do that at this time of the year is important," Roslovic said. "You see him in practice, his preparation, I don't think anyone should be surprised at what he's doing. His play has elevated for sure."