Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Michael Del Zotto: Time Has Come To Watch and Learn

At different points I have speculated on what the Rangers should do with Michael Del Zotto not only for right now, but to further his development into the type of player he can be for them.  Typically the focus of the negative side has been on his defensive mistakes and how he keeps repeating them as being the main source of frustration with his development.  That is not the case today.  Today the frustration is with the other side of the puck in terms of his passing and shooting issues.  The defensive issues are still there though to be fair he has not had a significant brain cramp giveaway in front of the net in about a week and he made a very nice sliding defensive play last night to stop a two-on-one with Crosby.

The strength of Del Zotto’s game was supposed to be his offensive prowess and his ability to quarterback the power play after all it is the reason he was rushed to the NHL when he was not defensively ready and it was his hot offensive start last year that kept him here the full season.  The offense other than the age has been the most commonly used excuse to put up with the defensive screw ups and yet this season the offense simply is not there.  We can talk about things like the sophomore jinx/slump, but I would rather spend the time trying to fix the problem then deal with the myths.

Last year Del Zotto display tremendous vision on the ice and precision passing ability that would routinely create odd-man or breakaway chances most notably for Marian Gaborik.  Right now the two most likely scenarios for an MDZ pass are to hit a teammate in the chest or give it to an opponent while forcing a stretch pass. 

In his role as a quarterback on the power play MDZ has to be a threat to score himself or he becomes inconsequential to the opposition and they can play pass with no fear of being burned.  He has alternated this season between being afraid to pull the trigger on the shots more than much maligned non-shooter Michal Rozsival and someone who could not hit the inside of a barn while in it.  When he is afraid to shoot the defense sags, keeps everything to the outside and the Rangers play patty-cake with the puck for the entire time.  On a night like last night Del Zotto must have missed the net at least five different times on shots while not hitting it once.  This is a problem for the entire team, but when your offense and more specifically your power play is predicated on grinding things out, scoring dirty goals you need to hit the net to create rebounds for players like Callahan and Dubinsky, especially against a goalie like Fleury who does not cleanly handle anything. 

To me the problem is for Del Zotto both offensively and defensively is not one of confidence, but of trying to do too much.  Instead of “settling” for the simple play, he and many times the whole team want to make the highlight play and instead of getting the reward they get punished by the other team capitalizing on the mistakes.  Make the simple pass instead of forcing the stretch; shoot hard and low at the net instead of trying to place it in a corner; play position instead of looking for the huge hit; pass the puck instead of carrying it.  All of those things are basic fundamental aspects of the game that many on the team are having escape them, but none more than Del Zotto. 

To me the time has come for MDZ to sit for a few, spending some time watching and some learning while also getting extra practice and film time.  There are examples on this team that he can watch and learn from on both ends of the ice.  Watch the fundamentals that Michael Sauer plays with on defense in terms of position, taking the hit when it is there, defending the crease, patience with the puck and making the simple pass out of his zone.  Watch the way Dan Girardi has learned to get his shot through this year and how it has dramatically impacted his point totals both on deflected shots going in and rebounds being put home.  Obviously the coaching staff does not want to drop MDZ down in the pairings to take some pressure off of him and let him get his game together that way so let him take a few mental days and get back to basics in practice the same way they did with Henrik Lundqvist. 

Matt Gilroy showed he can be fine playing in the six role with Sauer and Eminger showed he can play top four with Rozsival out so let both of them fill those roles and let MDZ get a chance to take a breather and fix things.  The move will be good not just for the rest of the year, but for the future of this club and for once we all need to step out of the right now and think big picture.