Rangers Rule: Zibanejad's Brilliance Lifts Team to NHL Summit Before Break!

Dive into the New York Rangers' triumph as Mika Zibanejad's finesse leads to victory, propelling them to the NHL's top spot just before the holiday break.
Anaheim Ducks v New York Rangers
Anaheim Ducks v New York Rangers / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

Dive into the Rangers' triumph as Mika Zibanejad's finesse leads to victory, propelling them to the NHL's top spot just before the holiday break.

The New York Rangers secured the win they wanted before the NHL's holiday break. It was an ugly victory, but they'll take it. Mika Zibanejad's slick feed to Chris Kreider sealed the deal in a 4-3 overtime victory against the Buffalo Sabres in front of a raucous Madison Square Garden crowd. Zibanejad's three-point night marked his ninth multi-point game this season, and he's been on fire with seven goals and 13 points during his seven-game streak.

This win was a sweet rebound from their Friday night disappointment against the Edmonton Oilers. Captain Jacob Trouba emphasized the importance of heading into the break on a positive note. "We've put ourselves in a good spot, so we deserve a couple of days here to enjoy them and come back ready to go," he said.

With a record of 23-8-1, the Rangers lead the NHL as they head into the break. They've maintained their top position, showing resilience after every minor setback. The focus now is on tightening up areas, particularly minimizing turnovers, and defending the rush as they aim for a Stanley Cup run. On Saturday, everything good and evil was on display.

Out for Redemption:

The Rangers faced a setback in Friday's 4-3 loss to the Oilers at Madison Square Garden due to some East-West moves. Saturday's game against Buffalo seemed like a chance for a North-South display, but Buffalo struggled with those cross-ice passes in their defensive zone. Early on, the Blueshirts smoothly maneuvered the puck, with Lafeniere making a speedy offensive move, aiming for Panarin, but the puck got deflected wide.

The breadman then connected with Lindgren, though Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made a solid save. Lindgren, the Iron Man, redeemed himself with a second-season goal, assisted by Will Cuylle and Nick Bonino screening in front. The Rangers kept up the offensive pressure, earning a power play when Jordan Greenway hooked Trocheck. The league's top power play capitalized, and Artemi Panarin doubled the lead by roofing one over Pekka Luukkonen. It marked the power play's seventh consecutive game with a goal.

A Buffalo Blitz:

As the Rangers took the lead, all eyes shifted to the defense, but unfortunately, turnovers and shaky transitions persisted. A mishap by K'Andre Miller set the stage for a Buffalo odd-man rush. Then, Jordan Greenway won a battle in the corner against Braden Schneider and fed Rasmus Dahlin, who unleashed a rocket in the slot for his tenth goal, cutting Buffalo's lead. The defensive struggles persisted in the second period, with Buffalo dominating the ice, showcasing their rush-centric style that led to a tie-breaking goal by Jack Quinn. Coach Peter Laviolette, visibly upset, urged a more northward play, while defensive coach Phil Housley emphasized a tougher backcheck to counter the rush.

Toughness and Turnarounds:

Yet, as bad as they are off the rush, they're equally as good on it. Blake Wheeler fed Kreider in transition, whose shot was stopped, but Mika Zibanejad batted the rebound out of midair for his 13th goal of the season and 22nd point in his last 16 games. The assist was also Wheeler's seventh point in six games, as the winger has recovered on the top line after a slow start to the season. Another forward making his mark was Alexis Lafreniere, who was noticeable with three shots on goal, a takeaway, and a shot that hit the crossbar. While he didn't crack the stat sheet, the 21-year-old was impactful on both ends of the ice.

So was Will Cuylle, who hit Ryan Johnson behind the Buffalo net. Erik Johnson stepped up and challenged him. It was a spirited fight, with Cuylle eventually dropping him. Johnson got hit with an unsportsmanlike penalty and a ten-minute misconduct penalty for arguing the roughing minor he received. Jeff Skinner also got ten minutes for arguing with the refs.

The sequence showcased Cuylle's toughness as he stood up for himself. The hit gave the Blueshirts juice. "I feel like sometimes we need that, head coach Peter Laviolette said. "I thought that was a turning point. I thought we were a little bit flat in the second period. You get in a fight, you start to turn it around, and the building gets into it. It was awesome."
"I don't want to say good to see haha, but he's a tough, physical kid. He plays the game very hard, and he's a guy you want on your team", Jacob Trouba said.

A player you don't want on your fantasy team is Rangers defenseman Braden Schneider, who was a -3 tonight. His failed clearing attempt ricocheted off the boards to Casey Mittelstadt for an easy finish, tying the score at 3-3 with 13:10 to play.

Happy Holidays:

The Rangers couldn't shake off the turnover bug, and even their power play felt the heat. Trocheck's giveaway during the man advantage gifted Tuch a breakaway, but Shesterkin, living up to his Vezina-winning status, shut it down with one of many crucial saves. Goodrow's penalty kill set the stage for the Rangers' power play, extending into overtime, but Pekka Luukkonen had other plans, denying Panarin and Adam Fox.

Overtime had fans on the edge, with Shesterkin pulling off back-to-back breakaway stops on Mittelstadt and a Tuch rebound. Then came the magic: Zibanejad's slick move around the Buffalo netminder set up Kreider in front for the game-winner, sending the crowd into a frenzy. In describing the play, Kreider said, "He pump-faked every single person in the building and used me as a backboard."