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Zibanejad On Return, Newly Formed Line's Success

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia / NYRangers.com

Mika Zibanejad's success in his first game back in nearly two months even took the center by surprise.

"I didn't expect it to be that good," said Zibanejad, who had two goals in his first game since breaking his fibula on Nov. 20. "I didn't expect to play those minutes that I did, but I felt good and I felt like I had energy and the legs and conditioning to do it. I didn't mind it. Obviously it's more frustrating to just sit there and not play when you can, but I think overall the preparation for the return from injury has been pretty intense and pretty hectic. I really put the effort and the time in."

While the two points were a positive, Zibanejad said there were little things he noticed that made him realize he was in fact playing his first game in eight weeks, including some decisions with the puck. With that said, it comes with the territory of a long layoff.

"There were a couple plays I wasn't really happy with, but that just gets me to notice I haven't played in a while," Zibanejad said on Wednesday. "Making those plays and maybe trying a little too much even though I tried to keep it simple.

"It's one of those things where it takes a couple games to get used to knowing when to chip it in and when to make a play," Zibanejad added. "That was kind of the difference [Tuesday] for me. Obviously it helps to come back and to produce and help the team score. Would much rather do that in a win, but it was an OK game and a good first game to come back to."

Zibanejad isn't the only member of the Rangers still getting back to speed after missing some time. In fact, Zibanejad wasn't the only one on his line Tuesday night still working their way back to top form after extended injuries.

The trio of Zibanejad, Rick Nash and Pavel Buchnevich combined to miss 62 games between Nov. 13 and Jan. 16 due to injuries. The line combined for three goals and four assists in Tuesday's 7-6 loss to Dallas, including a three-point effort from Buchnevich, who returned to action last week after a two-month absence of his own due to back and core problems.

Zibanejad said what makes the line so effective is the unique qualities all three players bring to the table.

"I think we're three different dynamic kind of guys," Zibanejad said. "Nasher is big and strong and can hold onto the puck and really shoot the puck. You have Pav who is a great passer and is great to anticipate all these things and more of a playmaker.

"I'm just trying to find a balance between those two," Zibanejad added. "Just try and support them as much as I can."

Head coach Alain Vigneault agreed with Zibanejad's assessment of the line and said he's looking forward to what the threesome could do moving forward in both ends of the ice.

"They bring different things," Vigneault said. "Offensively they had some good looks [Tuesday]. Talking about structure there's certain areas I would like to tighten up, but for the first time in a long time … a little bit more than two months, it was definitely a step in the right direction. I'm hoping that's going to continue in both ends of the rink, both offensively and defensively."

Zibanejad said the different backgrounds of each player plays a big part in the structure of the line as well.

"[Buchnevich is] a fun guy to play with. A lot of give and gos, a lot more of a European style," Zibanejad said. "It's fun to bring that type of game into the North American style. You have a guy like Nasher who plays in more straight lines and it helps open up things for him and us as well. It's been good."

Video: DAL@NYR: Buchnevich pots deflection off end boards

Vigneault said he'd like to see the 21-year-old Russian begin to shoot the puck more, but that he's a young player going through the ebbs and flows of their first season in the NHL.

"He's good at seeing the ice and finding his teammates," Vigneault said of Buchnevich. "I'd like him to shoot a little bit more when he's on one of those opportunities there when we need to get a chance out of that outnumber situation. 

"He likes to pass the puck, but sometimes you have to be the shooter and shoot the puck," the coach continued. "There's no doubt that the skill level is real good and we've got a real good player there that we've got to mold into a pro. He's going through the process right now and he's going to get better."

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