Zibanejad forces OT, notches game winner as Rangers top Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins had this one right where they wanted it.

A 2-0 lead heading into the third period against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, 20 minutes away from taking sole possession of first place in the volatile Metropolitan Division.

But the Rangers, who could only hope to play the role of spoiler on during Wednesday Night Rivalry on NBCSN, did exactly that after two third-period comebacks in a 4-3 overtime win.

For the Penguins, the point was enough to move them into a tie with the Washington Capitals for first place, with Alex Ovechkin and Co. holding a game in-hand over their Metro rivals. But the Penguins won’t be looking at the silver linings after giving up 2-0 and 3-2 leads respectively in the final frame.

Pittsburgh was even gifted a glorious opportunity to break a 3-3 with 10 seconds left.

The Rangers started Alexandar Georgiev in goal, and the veteran of five NHL games nudged the net off its moorings with Pittsburgh pressing and time running down in the third. Given that it was in the final two minutes of the game, the Penguins were awarded a penalty shot.

Step up Evgeni Malkin, who was looking for No. 40 for the third time in his career. Georgiev, with an opportunity to make amends for his transgression, stuck with Malkin as he dangled in close, ultimately turning aside the attempt to force overtime.

Bryan Rust, who missed the past two games with a concussion, returned in style to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead after a scoreless first period. Riley Sheahan doubled the lead under a minute later.

Casey DeSmith wasn’t tested much during the first two periods but turned aside all 17 shots he faced through 40 minutes.

The Rangers looked like a different team in the third period. Sustained pressure forced DeSmith to make some timely saves, but the walls eventually gave way.

Chris Kreider notched his 13th followed by Jesper Fast‘s 11th to tie the game with just over five minutes to go.

Former Ranger Carl Hagelin scored just over a minute later to restore the lead for the Penguins, but the Rangers got a late power play opportunity and cashed in, with Kreider making a slick cross-ice feed to Mika Zibanejad.

And it would be Zibanejad who would have the final say in the contest, scoring at the 2:53 mark in overtime to cap off quite the comeback for the Rangers.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Mika Zibanejad’s concussion a tough pill to swallow for the Rangers

Getty Images

It’s a not a deathblow, but the loss of Mika Zibanejad certainly packs a devastating punch to the New York Rangers lineup that has a tough divisional schedule on the horizon.

The Rangers announced Thursday that Zibanejad is out indefinitely with a concussion after a hit he sustained from Darren Helm last Friday against the Detroit Red Wings.

It’s a tough pill to swallow in the Big Apple, for a couple reasons.

Zibanejad is the team’s top goal scorer with 11 and point producer with 22. He’s also the team’s top-line center on a line with Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich that has combined for 58 points this season.

And there might not be a worse time for Zibanejad to be out of the lineup. The Rangers, who have won 10 of their past 13 games and sit four points adrift of third place in the Metropolitan Division, play half of their next 12 games against divisional opponents.

David Desharnais filled in for Zibanejad on Tuesday in a 5-4 loss to the Florida Panthers. He collected three assists in the game, but his long-term viability between Krieder and Buchnevich is questionable.

The loss of Zibanejad leaves the Rangers a little light on center depth as well. The Rangers traded Adam Cracknell to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday for center Peter Holland. Holland is expected to start with the Hartford Wolfpack of the American Hockey League but could be an option down the middle at some point.

Perhaps the most concerning part, for both Zibanejad and the Rangers going forward is that Zibanejad has been concussed five times dating back to his final season in Sweden in 2011-12. 

His last came during the 2015-16 season when he was with the Ottawa Senators.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Ottawa Senators ’15-16 Outlook

1 Comment

What happens after the honeymoon period wears off?

The Ottawa Senators may be a great test run for such theories in 2015-16. After all, there was a stark difference between the team that left MacLean making sardonic jokes on his way out the door to the one that stormed its way into the postseason under Dave Cameron.

So, what happens when Cameron gets to hold a training camp with this roster? Also, what happens if their goaltending is merely average after Andrew Hammond’s stupendous, burger-earning run?

One interesting thing to consider: some credit Ottawa’s turnaround with Cameron as much as they did with “The Hamburglar.” The possession improvements from MacLean to Cameron were occasionally drastic, but the common theme is that younger players like Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone emerged while veterans faded into the background.

Perceptions change, but the personnel’s largely the same

There are exceptions (see: Robin Lehner’s exodus), yet the Senators are more or less the same team after a quiet summer. It’s interesting, then, that it’s still difficult to forecast this team’s future.

Hoffman, Stone and Mika Zibanejad saw big gains under Cameron. Kyle Turris proved that he can be a top center in the NHL. More will be expected from Bobby Ryan while Erik Karlsson is, well, Erik Karlsson.

The offense looks like a solid strength, but Ottawa’s roster faces plenty of questions. The defense sees a huge drop-off beyond their top pairing of Karlsson and Marc Methot while Hammond could easily generate a goalie controversy with probable starter Craig Anderson.

In other words, by defying expectations in 2014-15, Cameron and the Senators raised the bar awfully high for next season. Will they fall short of that mark?

Looking to make the leap: Matt Puempel

Matt Puempel got a taste last year. Now he wants more.

Puempel, taken by Ottawa in the first round (24th overall) at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, made his big-league debut last season and looked as though he’d stick around — only to suffer a high ankle sprain after 13 games, and miss the rest of the season.

“I’m actually impressed with how strong and how good it feels,” Puempel told the Ottawa Sun in July, while attending his fifth (!!) prospect development camp. “It probably bugged me until the middle of May with all the workouts and the rehab. I’ve been working out on it. The recovery is different for everybody.

“With a high ankle sprain, the ligaments inside have to heal and I have no restrictions on it now.”

A former standout with OHL Peterborough, Puempel has shown well at the AHL level over the last couple of years. Prior to his call-up last season, he had 12 goals and 32 points in 51 games, and there is hope in Ottawa that he can transition to the NHL like other past scorers in Bingo, such as Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone, the rookie duo that carried the Sens at time last season.

It certainly seems like Ottawa’s brass thinks Puempel can produce at the NHL level.

In his brief cameo last season he skated on a line with Mika Zibanejad and Bobby Ryan. But the way Puempel sees it, he needs to keep working, have a good camp, and make the Sens’ opening-night roster before thinking about potential linemates for this season.

“When you’re playing on a line with Mika and Bobby it’s a pretty cool thrill but at the same time it’s a job,” he explained. “You have to do your job and you can’t be wowed by anything out there.

“By that time I was more used to the lifestyle and the pace of the game and how I felt. I was confident for sure and felt good.”

Under Pressure: Bobby Ryan

15 Comments

When you’re bringing home the biggest paychecks on your team, people are going to expect big results.

Most won’t demand team-best play from Bobby Ryan, as just about anyone realizes that the Ottawa Senators go as far as Erik Karlsson can take them.

That said, many are going to expect Ryan, 28, to score more than 18 goals now that his hefty contract is kicking in. Disappointing playoff results aren’t going to cut it, either.

His $7.25 million cap hit tops all Senators, and it’s a lengthy deal (the overall cost: seven years, $50.75 million). It’s a contract that could elicit some serious groans in little time, particularly if Ryan doesn’t find a way to be more than the 20-ish goal scorer we’ve seen lately.

Snipers have it tough in a lot of ways, as even the best hit cold streaks, sometimes based largely on bad luck. Even so, Ryan hasn’t exactly given himself a lot of leeway with fans who may otherwise hand him some benefit of the doubt:

It probably doesn’t help the American winger’s cause that the Senators employed cheaper players who produced similar results last season.

He only ranked sixth on the team in goals with those 18, as Mike Hoffman (27 goals, $2 million next season), Mark Stone (26 goals, $3.5M), Kyle Turris (24 goals, $3.5M), Karlsson (21 goals, $6.5M) and Mika Zibanejad (20 goals, $2.625M) all lit the lamp more often than Ryan.

As uncomfortable as that might be considering Ryan’s price tag, it could also stand as a “good problem to have” … at least if the Senators make the playoffs. (Although he’d probably be the first to admit that his 2015 postseason performance was underwhelming, too.)

If that isn’t the case, Ryan will be put under far more scrutiny, and people will again wonder about his ability to spell intensity. Ultimately, it all reads as a high-pressure situation for Ryan.