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David Quinn was candid while explaining his reasons for benching struggling veteran Mika Zibanejad for a majority of the second period in the Rangers’ 6-1 victory over the Devils on Thursday night, but the head coach said everything was business as usual between the two in practice Friday.
“The same vibes, nothing has changed from my end with him,” Quinn said. “Listen, he and I have had plenty of conversations, there’s no surprises here. Like I said, I was happy with the uptick in his play after he sat for a little bit.”
It’s an unavoidable topic of conversation when the team’s top-line center has just two goals (one an empty-netter) and a mere eight points through the first 21 games of the season. But once Quinn seemingly had seen enough and limited Zibanejad’s ice time in the first period Thursday to a startling 3:59, it became the topic of conversation.
Quinn didn’t deploy the 27-year-old Swede until 10:46 of the second period. By that time, the Blueshirts had tied it 1-1 on Chris Kreider’s power-play goal, his first of three tallies in the victory.
“I didn’t love his game, I didn’t love what we were seeing, I didn’t love a lot about our first period. But obviously he’s had a tough start to the season and maybe sitting him for a while would give him a little jolt and give our team a little jolt,” Quinn said of Zibanejad after the game, adding that he thought the stats and pressure were beginning to slow him down. “I did like what I saw when he came back out.
“I was just going to see how he was playing, how he was competing, how he was skating. If I thought I saw an uptick in his play, I was going to continue to play him and if not, he was going to continue to sit. That’s really what it came down to.”
The pace of the NHL is beginning to slow down for Alexis Lafreniere.
Currently riding a four-game point streak with two goals and two assists, the 2020 first-overall pick has a weightlessness about him that’s infectious, Kreider pointed out after the Rangers’ win Thursday.
Lafreniere has started to develop chemistry with his first-line teammates, Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich, which has allowed the top trio to generate more high-danger opportunities in the last handful of games than they have all season.
“At the start of the season, you always want to produce offensively as an offensive player,” Lafreniere said Friday. “But I was trying to keep my composure, and I knew it was going to come. I wasn’t playing my best hockey the first couple of games, but as the season, the games start going, I was better I think.
“For sure, the game is getting a little bit slower and [I’m] getting used to the pace a little bit. I still have things to improve and work on in practice and in games.”
The 19-year-old pointed out that he has grown more comfortable playing in the Rangers’ system and has been able to focus on improving his play in both zones.
“I’m getting chemistry with my linemates for sure,” he said. “We’ve been playing a couple of games together, so that helps. And they’re really good players. I just have to get open and they’re going to find me I think.”