Confident Zibanejad elevating his game

When asked about Mika Zibanejad’s pretty goal in Saturday’s shootout, Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean made a forceful comment.

Confident Zibanejad elevating his game
Ottawa Senators forward Mika Zibanejad (93), of Sweden, scores a goal against Nashville Predators goalie Marek Mazanec (39), of the Czech Republic, during a shootout at an NHL hockey game Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. The Senators won the shootout to win the game 2-1. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

ST. PAUL — When asked about Mika Zibanejad’s pretty goal in Saturday’s shootout, Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean made a forceful comment.

“He scored with authority,” said MacLean.

It isn’t just in the shootout where the 20-year-old centre is establishing himself as a consistent presence. Zibanejad hasn’t officially registered a point the past two games — he has 10 goals and nine assists in 36 games this season — but don’t let the absence of numbers fool you.

He has been perhaps the Senators’ most dangerous scoring threat in the past several weeks, showcasing touches of finesse. In the second period of Saturday’s 2-1 shootout win, Zibanejad turned Nashville Predators rookie defenceman Seth Jones inside out deep in the Nashville end and narrowly missed scoring when he rifled a shot off the mask of goaltender Marek Mazanec.

“I should probably have gone far side, it’s easy to say now, I guess, but at least we got a win,” said Zibanejad, shaking his head.

Goal or not, the fact Zibanejad even tried such a slick move is an indication that he’s bursting with confidence, a far cry from the player who was assigned to Binghamton of the American Hockey League after a mediocre training camp.

“The more confidence I have, the more I can go on my instinct and just play, rather than think out there,” he said. “And I think that’s what I’m doing right now. The confidence is there when I hold on to the puck. I don’t have to maybe throw it away all the time. I’m able to skate with (the puck) and that comes along with it.”

The line of Milan Michalek, Zibanejad and Cory Conacher is a legitimate threat. Considering the unit of Clarke MacArthur, Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan are still clicking with consistency and that captain Jason Spezza is back after missing four games earlier this month, the Senators are becoming more difficult to match up against.

Zibanejad believes this is the best stretch he has played in the big leagues.

“On a consistent basis, I think so,” he said. “I try to improve every day at practice, but I don’t want to let up now. It’s a good building (block) for me, a good model to go out there. I know what I’m doing when I play well and I have something to rely on, to go back to.”

To top that off, Zibanejad now appears to be the first shooter of choice for MacLean in the shootout, a perfect 2-for-2 in his young career.

“I like shootouts and I like being given the chance to go out there,” he said. “I like those one on one situations and I’ve been lucky these two times.”

There will be plenty more chances for him in the future.

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