After missing a bulk of training camp due to a positive COVID-19 test, Mika Zibanejad will be in the Rangers’ opening-night lineup Thursday night against the Islanders.
Head coach David Quinn confirmed that Zibanejad was “good to go” during his pregame media availability. And despite concerns over the Swedish center’s recovery from the virus, Quinn doesn’t expect to limit his minutes.
“Mika only goes full bore, we will see full Mika tonight,” Quinn said.
Zibanejad said he has felt better every day since contracting the coronavirus just before the starting of training camp.
“I’ve been feeling good,” he said on a Zoom call Thursday morning. “Each day that’s been going by I think it’s been better. Felt really good Monday, felt good [Wednesday] and it just gets better every day. I don’t know exactly what the plan is that way, time wise. I’m ready to go and I’m just excited.”
It’s been 163 days since the Rangers were handily swept by the Hurricanes out of the qualifying round of last summer’s postseason in the Toronto bubble.
And while the team is looking to redeem itself from getting outscored 11-4 over three games on a playoff stage this season, Quinn doesn’t want any of his players to forget it.
“We felt good about the way our regular season ended last season; we certainly didn’t feel good about the way the bubble went,” Quinn said on a Zoom call Wednesday. “As I’ve said many times, we have to not ignore what went on in the bubble, we have to learn from it. You don’t want to take three games and paint a whole season with that.”
With no preseason games and just a 10-day training camp to prepare, Quinn has encouraged high-intensity practices and scrimmages. The third-year Rangers coach said he’s covered just about everything he possibly can in the time allotted, but added that he liked the team’s “mental and physical commitment” and that they were “dialed in.”
Quinn said he believes effort is going to be the deciding factor in a lot of games this season, while Chris Kreider said it’ll be of utmost importance that the Rangers get off to a good start. The Rangers know they’ll have to be on their game every day as soon as the puck drops Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, and they’ll have the lingering uneasiness of how their 2019-20 season ended to remind them.
“After the playoffs, I know everyone had a very, very bad taste in their mouths how things ended,” Kreider said. “I think this has been a long time coming and I think our group is really itching to get back to playing some meaningful hockey.”