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Zibanejad Expected to Return Tuesday Against Ducks

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

Barring a setback between Monday's practice and Tuesday's game, Mika Zibanejad is expected to rejoin the Rangers lineup when they host the Ducks at Madison Square Garden.

Zibanejad, who has been out since Nov. 26 with a concussion, practiced at center today between Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich and after the skate, both he and coach Alain Vigneault said the hope was to play Tuesday night.

"Whatever the docs say," Zibanejad said. "If I'm good to go, then I want to be ready."

Zibanejad said this was "the right time" to return to the lineup after suffering his concussion late last month. He practiced last week with the team as a defenseman and took part in morning skates, but Tuesday was his first full practice at forward. 

"It was another step today, to practice and practice on my line," he said. "So far, so good. I'm staying positive and we'll see what happens throughout the day."

Vigneault said he still had to talk with head medical trainer Jim Ramsay as well as Zibanejad himself, but that the expectation would be the Rangers would have their leading scorer at the time of his injury back against Anaheim.

"Unless something happens between now and until tomorrow, he should be available," Vigneault said.

With Zibanejad's expected return, Vigneault moved center David Desharnais to the fourth line between Paul Carey and Jimmy Vesey. Boo Nieves, who had been centering that unit, is expected to be a healthy scratch on Tuesday.

Vigneault praised Desharnais, who had seven points in nine games during Zibanejad's absence while skating between Kreider and Buchnevich.

"I thought in the nine games he stepped in for Mika, David played well," he said. "That line was effective. It had, obviously, some better nights than others, but he stepped in there - I thought Kreids and Buchy had some very good games and some good looks."

Desharnais played nearly all those nine games with Kreider and Buchnevich on the team's top line. Vigneault, though, is expecting the same effort from Desharnais albeit in a lesser role on the team's fourth line, namely because of his deployment of his forwards and spreading minutes out.

"There's no doubt that Kreids and Buchy are good players, but I also think Jimmy and Paul are also good players," Vigneault said. "If you look at … most of the games we've played lately, every forward - and a lot of that was schedule oriented also - every forward and every D, our minutes were spread out. We wanted to make sure there was energy in the tank and guys could go out and play."

"Davey, with Jimmy and Paul, I expect that to be an effective line for us," Vigneault added. "You look at the games we win, it's a four-line team that's team oriented. That's how we win our games. We need contributions from everyone in our lineup."

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