OTTAWA -- Among the reactions and emotions filling the victorious visitors' dressing room at Canadian Tire Centre on Saturday night, amid the celebrations of another early-season Rangers victory, some players also couldn't help shrugging their shoulders, shaking their heads. They were finding it hard to imagine a player getting off to a more magnificent start to a season than what Mika Zibanejad has put together in the span of three days.
Just 48 hours after racking up a goal and three assists on Opening Night at the Garden, the Rangers' No. 1 center managed to top that, returning to the place where he started his career and scoring his third career hat trick in the Rangers' 4-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators.
The Rangers' first road game of the season was barely half over by the time Zibanejad had scored on a power play, then at even strength, then shorthanded. For good measure he set up Artemi Panarin's third-period power-play insurance goal, giving him his second straight four-point night, and eight points in the Rangers' two games so far.
Afterward, some of the Rangers were searching for words to describe it, including Zibanejad himself.
"I can't really explain what's going on right now," he said. "I'm playing with good teammates and unbelievable players out there. I'm getting a lot of chances and they're going in. I'll try to take advantage of that as long as I can."
The Rangers are 2-0 for the first time in five years, and their scorching top line of Zibanejad, Panarin and Pavel Buchnevich has 14 points in the two wins. They combined for eight of them on this night, and were involved in all four Ranger goals and in nine of the 10 the Blueshirts have scored so far this season.
All three teamed up on Zibanejad's second goal, which turned into the game-winner and which was a mesmerizing piece of skill, and after which Zibanejad looked over at Buchnevich with an expression akin to disbelief, a feeling his teammates seemed to share.
"Sometimes that line looks like they're playing a video game," said Marc Staal. "They hit a couple buttons and it's tape-to-tape, backdoor, and looks pretty. It's a huge advantage, obviously, to have them playing like that."
Zibanejad is the sixth player in NHL history with four points in each of his first two games of a season, a list that includes the names Esposito and Gretzky. He is the first Ranger to score a hat trick against the Senators since Adam Graves in March of 1997, but the opponent and the setting in this case were personal for Zibanejad, who was Ottawa's first-round draft pick in 2011 and spent his first five NHL seasons as a Senator.
"It's where I started, it's where I got my first opportunity to play in the NHL, and I'm really thankful for that," Zibanejad said. "And to come here and do that, I think it's going to be a night I'll remember for a long time."
"I've told everybody what a great player he is," said David Quinn. "I couldn't be happier for him because there's not a better guy. And you know, he's put an awful lot of work into it. I'm not surprised he's getting the results."
On any other night, meanwhile, there might have been far more fanfare for Alexandar Georgiev, who turned in a near-flawless performance in his season debut. He made 31 saves, a total that does not reflect the poke check he made to break up a 2-on-none near the end of the second period to preserve the Rangers' two-goal cushion. Only a seeing-eye shot that hit the boot of a leaping Brady Tkachuk got past him in the first period, after which the Rangers settled in and were comfortably in control of the game.
Panarin finished with a goal and an assist for the second straight game, while Jacob Trouba assisted on Zibanejad's first goal, on a power play 6:04 into the game -- giving both those players four points in their first two games as Rangers. Chris Kreider and Brendan Smith each had a helper; both of Smith's points this season, a goal and an assist, have come shorthanded.
The Rangers finished 2-for-3 on a power play that is looking very hard to stop; it is 3-for-5 overall, with another goal coming seconds after one of those power plays had expired.
"It was much easier to play when we scored, got the lead in the second period and came up with two great goals," Georgiev said. "It was easier to play from that moment on."
The first of those second-period goals was a masterpiece, starting with Adam Fox's 125-foot outlet, a bank pass from behind the Ranger net over three lines to Panarin. The puck then zipped from Panarin to a cutting Zibanejad down the left side, then across the slot to Buchnevich, then back again for a slam dunk before Sens goalie Craig Anderson could even get his head turned around.
"Panarin makes that first pass, and I just try to get it over to Buchie. That's one of the few guys I know who is going to be able to pass that back and not shoot it," Zibanejad said. "I thought I made a pretty good pass to give him an empty-netter, but apparently he didn't want it. So I'm happy I was ready for it, and luckily it went in."
When it did, he furrowed his brow at Buchnevich as if to say … what, exactly?
"'Gross,'" Zibanejad explained.
"Yeah, I was thinking the same thing, standing and watching that thing zipping around like a ping pong ball," Quinn said. "Those guys have done it before, they did it in the preseason a couple times. And you know, they've started to form some chemistry, and it's only Game 2."
Perhaps the only downbeat of the night is that it will be a while before Game 3: The Rangers now have six idle days before Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers arrive at the Garden next Saturday afternoon. So the Rangers knew that, for better or worse, they would be forced to dwell on the result for a week.
No complaints now.
"That's what we want, we want to get the wins and start the season off right," Georgiev said. "And now we get to enjoy a little bit of time until the next game. It's going to be great."