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Zibanejad's Star Continues Its Rise

Rangers Center is NHL's First Star of the Week, After Starring for February, Too

by Michael Obernauer

Mika Zibanejad scored goals in all of the Rangers' games this past week, and the NHL recognized him among its League-wide Three Stars. If those things sound like old news it is only because Zibanejad has been producing for the Rangers with an almost incredible consistency.

The novel part of Monday's announcement was that Zibanejad, just after he was honored as the Second Star for the month of February, started off the month of March by taking home NHL First Star honors of the week. The accolade was announced as the Rangers were practicing on their ice in Westchester, two days after Zibanejad scored for the seventh time in the calendar week to raise his career-high total to 39 goals, and counting, this season.

With one more goal he would become the 20th different player to have a 40-goal season for the Rangers.

It so happens that the most recent week in which Zibanejad earned his Star also was the first week since he lost his familiar left winger, Chris Kreider, to a fractured foot. That injury happened two Fridays ago in Philadelphia; the Blueshirts have played four games so far without Kreider, and Zibanejad not only has stepped up with goals in each of them, he has nine goals - nine goals! -- in the four games. It all was highlighted, of course, by his unforgettable, franchise-record-tying five-goal outburst to beat the Washington Capitals last Thursday at Madison Square Garden.

When the subject of his past week came up on Monday morning, Zibanejad wanted to talk only about how his team fared, not himself -- "We just have to remember what made us successful for those two months" in January and February, he said. And when the subject of Kreider's injury arose, Zibanejad gave just a slight what-can-you-do shrug, and repeated that it's not as if he is trying to do extra to make up for his close friend's absence.

"I try not to change my game," Zibanejad said. "I know there's a lot of talk about how obviously he is a big, key player for us, and for our line. He does so much for our line when he's out there.

"I've said this before: It's hard to kind of play for two guys. And the guys who have been playing with us, with me and Buchie, have done a good job." (For the record, Pavel Buchnevich, his right winger, has points in every game since Kreider went down, too.)

Zibanejad has scored 21 times in the Rangers' 20 games since the All-Star break, most in the NHL. During last week, not long after he individually outscored Alex Ovechkin 5-2 in the Rangers' Garden win over Washington, he jumped past the Capitals captain into the League lead in goals per game, with 0.71 (39 goals in 55 games).

With Kreider out and the Rangers in playoff mode down the stretch of the season, "Guys get a different opportunity," Zibanejad said, "and you just have to step up. That's what we have to continue doing."

It's what Zibanejad has continued doing, and the rest of the League continues taking notice.

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