The New York Rangers are in the final 9 games of a lost season, but you wouldn’t know that looking at Mika Zibanejad’s year.
Mika Zibanejad is carrying the weight of the New York Rangers on his shoulders this season. His best friend, Mats Zuccarello, was traded. The organization sold again at the trade deadline yet that didn’t stop the team’s No. 1 center from doing his job.
Mika has been leading on the ice for this young Rangers team. He has set a career high in goals scored (28), assists (39) and points (67). Five of his goals were game-winners this season.
On the special teams’ side of the game, Mika recorded nine power-play goals along with two shorthanded goals.
The center has won 734 face-offs this season another career high for him, which breaks down to a respectable 49.7 percent. The number one center has averaged 20:31 minutes per game which includes playing top minutes in crucial spots every night.
The numbers continue to impress the team and the league, especially when considering the team is three games under .500 in the standings and though mathematically, still have a chance to make the playoffs, have known for the past few months that the postseason wasn’t going to be a reality.
The official New York Rangers Stats and Info (@NYRStatsinfo) tweeted numbers that show the kind of season Mika experienced. Hint: he is in good company with some of the best in the NHL.
Zibanejad is just 1-of-9 NHL players with 28 goals or more and 60 or more takeaways (Sebastian Aho, Aleksander Barkov, Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, Sean Monahan, Mark Scheifele, Mark Stone, Jonathan Toews.)
The center is 1-of-2 NHL players with 28 or more goals and 120 or more hits this season (Alex Ovechkin).
Numbers aside, Zibanejad is a team player. He acknowledged as much following the team’s loss to the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night.
Speaking to Colin Stephensen of Newsday, you could feel the disappointment Zib is going through after the team dropped its fourth consecutive game,
“We’ve still got 10 games to go, and we’ll try and get as many wins as we can. We know our situation. We know what’s going to happen, so, let’s try and get something positive out of these last 10 games and have a little bit of a good feeling going into the offseason, and feel hungry and feel good about this year.’’
There was no consolation of scoring his 28th goal of the year in the loss. Zibanejad is looking to the next 10 games as a starting point to a better 2019-20 season.
There doesn’t need to be a “C” on his chest to know who the leader of this team is.
Zibanajed knows just how important these final 10 games are. The team needs to finish strong to avoid heading into the offseason with a bad taste—one that would linger until next September.
“No one’s checked out, by any means,’’ Zibanejad said. “Let’s try and finish on a high note. If we lose 10 straight here, or  straight, or whatever it would be, going into the end of the year, I don’t think anyone’s going into the offseason happy. I don’t think we’re going into the offseason happy if we win 10 straight, either, but at the same time, you can definitely have a better feeling and more of an excited feeling knowing that we were close this year, and a lot of those games – overtime losses, you just (reverse the results in) even just half of them, and we’re right in there.’
The one-goal games, along with the many losses that were the results are learning spots for this young team, have been a mainstay. Zibanejad understands how close this team is to getting back to winning, to playing meaningful games in March and playoff hockey in April.
For now, Zibanejad is going to continue to do exactly what he has done all season.
He will play the final 10 games as he has the previous 72. He has not missed a game this year, with toughness, effort, and heart that he carried him to be the team’s top player and potential captain next season.