Mika Zibanejad will make his return to the Rangers' lineup tonight against Dallas, and the center has a gameplan in mind for this first match in nearly two months.
"I have a lot of scenarios going through my head of how this game could go, but for me it's getting back and playing simple," Zibanejad told reporters after the team's morning skate at The Garden Tuesday. "It sounds very cliché but when you come back from a long injury like this, it's just simplify things and try to get back into it. You want to take a couple of games to get a feel for the timing and the speed of the game."
Zibanejad, who has five goals and 10 assists for 15 points in 19 games this season, has been out since Nov. 20 when he suffered a broken fibula against the Florida Panthers. He's been skating for the past few weeks and has practiced twice with New York prior to tonight's return. He said while he feels ready to play, nothing compares to getting back into an actual game.
"I think I've skated enough before for that to be where it's at," Zibanejad said when asked if there was any concern over the leg. "But at the same time you can do all the work off the ice, on the ice, but when it comes to games it's completely different. It's more of a reaction kind of deal. We'll see. It's going to be exciting. Not playing for that long and coming back - it's something I've been looking forward to for a long time."
Head coach Alain Vignault praised the 23-year-old's work in getting ready for his return to the lineup after such an extended absence.
"All I can say is I've been watching him real closely here for the past three weeks," Vigneault said. "We had him do on ice testing that we do prior to the season. We had him do it last week and his results - as far as skating wise - were better than they were during training camp. He's utilized this time here real well."
Zibanejad said he was able to work on different aspects of training during the eight-week rehab, especially on his upper body while he was unable to do much with his legs.
"I didn't like [being out] but it was a good learning experience," Zibanejad said. "I got time to work on different things. The time you don't really have during the season to really push myself. I guess I see that as a positive thing from this injury if I look at it that way."
Vigneault said Zibanejad would skate on a line with Pavel Buchnevich and Rick Nash and would join the Rangers' power play. The coach said it's up to him and his staff to put Zibanejad in situations that will benefit him off the bat.
"You've got to help a player and work with him here," Vigneault said. "Right away - even though our power play has been working well - we're putting him back on the power play. We've put Pavel there also. We're going to try and expose [Zibanejad] and give him the right quality of minute and hopefully he can find the rhythm that he had prior to the injury."
With Zibanejad returning to the lineup, Vigneault said Oscar Lindberg would be the healthy scratch tonight against the Stars.
"Right now I like that first unit on the power play with [Brandon Pirri] there," Vigneault said. "We've got an extra forward. Oscar has been playing all right, but we've got an extra guy and he's the odd-man out tonight.