Did Mika Zibanejad ever need that.
The New York Rangers’ first-line center that put up 41 goals last season has been a shell of his former self in 2021 — headlining the Rangers’ struggles with just three goals in his first 27 games; nearly halfway through the NHL’s shortened 56-game season.
The continued inability to consistently find the back of the net only mounted further doubt that the 27-year-old wasn’t the answer on the Rangers’ top attacking unit, especially because there wasn’t much indication that one bounce or lucky break could open the scoring floodgates.
Well, the floodgates opened on Wednesday.
On a whacky night that saw the entire Rangers coaching staff sidelined due to league COVID protocols, the Blueshirts annihilated the Philadelphia Flyers 9-0, including a mammoth seven-goal period.
Zibanejad tied an NHL franchise record with six points in the second period (three goals, three assists), tying Bryan Trottier’s mark he set with the Islanders in 1978 against the Rangers.
He doubled his goal-scoring total on the season in 10:10 and in every aspect: a shorthanded breakaway goal, a power-play tally, and a driving even-strength breakthrough.
“Obviously it hasn’t been maybe what everyone expected, including me obviously, but I’ve been trying to just work and trust myself,” Zibanejad said after his big-time performance. “For the past week or so, I’ve been feeling better in my game and have been getting a lot of support and all the help I need from the guys on the ice.”
A Zibanejad breakout will be imperative for the Rangers to make a second-half run toward playoff contention.
With Artemi Panarin back in the fold, New York’s complement of offensive weapons is at full strength and will need to be at its best to overcome a six-point separation between them — in sixth place — and the fourth-place Boston Bruins, who hold the last playoff spot in the Eastern Division.
“I’ve been just trying to get myself through this. It hasn’t been easy. It is what it is,” Zibanejad said. “But it’s one game. Overall, I’ve been feeling a little bit better the past little bit here. Obviously, production is a big part of it.”