Sens' Brassard admits facing former Rangers' team will be 'special'
Centre swapped for Zibanejad in off-season
It may not be fair, but comparisons between Derick Brassard and Mika Zibanejad will be inevitable as the Ottawa Senators take on the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Senators acquired Brassard and a seventh-round pick in exchange for Zibanejad and a second-round pick in a big trade nine months ago. Now they are set to face off in the second round of the NHL playoffs, and measuring two centres against each other will likely be a persistent storyline throughout the series.
"He's a good player," said Brassard of Zibanejad. "The Rangers got a really good, young centreman, but it's not about me and him here. It's two hockey teams going at it. I respect him as a player, as a person, but at the end of the day there's hockey trades happening every year and there's always players changing address."
That's not to say Brassard wouldn't love to beat his former team and earn some bragging rights.
"It's going to be special and I'm just planning on not changing anything and doing what I do best, but it is a little more special than usual," Brassard said. "We have a goal as a team and right now they're in the way. It doesn't matter if it's the Rangers or any other team around the league I'm going to try and do our best to try and advance."
Brassard hasn't disappointed
When the Senators acquired Brassard in the off-season, general manager Pierre Dorion said Ottawa acquired a veteran player who could not only help them get to the playoffs, but also help them win in the playoffs.
So far Brassard hasn't disappointed — at least in the post-season. During the regular season Brassard was underwhelming with 14 goals and 25 assists in 81 games, his lowest full-season point total since 2009-10.
In comparison Zibanejad had 14 goals and 37 points through 56 games before the 24-year-old missed over two months with a broken fibula suffered in November.
Despite the totals, Senators management and its coaching staff said they were pleased with Brassard's performance, and that from an analytics perspective, based on the team's own calculations, Brassard had been the Senators' best forward.
Many received that assessment with skepticism, but Brassard's performance against the Boston Bruins in the opening round of the playoffs quickly quieted the doubters. Brassard played like a man possessed as he led the Senators in scoring with eight points (two goals, six assists) through the six-game series.
"He's really come through, definitely stepped his game up," said teammate Zack Smith. "Some guys elevate their game in the playoffs and some guys can't, but he's obviously done that. If you look at his numbers in the playoffs he's played a lot of games and put up a lot of points. He's a post-season player and that's good to see as we'll need everyone, that's for sure."
Brassard's post-season play comes as no surprise to Ottawa head coach Guy Boucher.
'He doesn't hesitate to shoot'
"He's been playing like that since December," Boucher said. "What's different is he doesn't hesitate to shoot anymore, that's the difference. The rest is exactly the same. I think he stopped trying to play for everybody else and just started to play his game with no hesitation. He's an emotional guy and when there's emotion, when there's pressure he's really good."
His ability to play under pressure earned the 29-year-old the moniker of "Big Game Brass" by the New York Post's Larry Brooks a couple years ago.
"There's always pressure and I think I can handle it pretty well," Brassard said. "I always showed up in the big stage and I'm just going to try and play my game and I'm not going to put any pressure on myself. I have some good linemates and good teammates to play around and they're going to help me out."
So far Zibanejad has been equally impressive, leading the Rangers with one goal and four points through New York's six games against the Montreal Canadiens.
Zibanejad knows he can't get away from the comparisons, but says his focus is strictly on helping the Rangers.
"For me, it's just winning this series," said Zibanejad in an interview with NYRangers.com. "Taking a game at a time and winning. It's all about the team right now. I knew it was going to come up and be brought up a lot, but for me, try and just win."