Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Gaborik Hurt All Along or Made Of Glass?; How to Use Zuccarello; My Lines For Tomorrow

Lots of news in Rangers land today and as usual of late it seems to revolve for good or bad around Marian Gaborik and Michael Del Zotto.  In terms of Gaborik the reactions to today’s news of his groin strain that will keep him out of tomorrow’s game against the Lightning have either been of one of two varieties.  One has people jumping to the conclusion that this is why his game has been so inconsistent over the past month.  The other is focusing on the glass nature of Gaborik’s body and the fact that this is yet another groin injury for the 28-year-old.  I see some validity in both sides, but I also have issues with both sides.

In addressing the rush to excuse his poor play on the injury if you watch the video of John Tortorella meeting with the press today he clearly says this is a new thing that he has been dealing with over the last couple of days.  Now you are certainly entitled to think he is full of it and covering for Gaborik to not let it be an excuse for his poor play or you can take it at face value and lose the ability to claim it as the cause of the lack of production.  For me there is little question as to which side I take because if he was dealing with a groin issue and the coach is still shoving him out there 20+ minutes a night as he has been, even 23 minutes against Pittsburgh, then the coach should be fired.

In terms of the Gaborik is made of glass side of it there is no question he has missed a number of games in his career and with tomorrow’s game it will be his 14th missed game already this season.  The flip side to that is that tweaks and pulls are going to happen even to the best conditioned athletes and if there was a good time for this to happen it is now with the almost vacation like schedule around the holidays.  Obviously I am more concerned about this injury because he has a history of injuries to his groin, but the last thing that should happen is the Rangers or Gaborik himself rushes back into the lineup just to avoid the talk of him being fragile.  Personally I do find it a little convenient  that after getting criticized for poor play now a groin issue pops up, but it is what it is.

Moving past Gaborik himself into what it means for the club tomorrow leads me first to the call-up of Frodo from Modo, Mats Zuccarello.  Zuke has been on fire of late for the Whale and has all the physical skill to be a very good NHL player and from all reports despite his size has no fear or hesitation to go into the tough areas of the ice.  His creativity and flare are something that will be a welcome addition to the Rangers lineup that for the most part has been pretty stale in its approach, especially on the power play, which I expect Zuccarello to be on immediately if not the first unit certainly the second. 

The only concern for Zuccarello is the physical size and contact at the NHL level is significantly higher than what he has been facing in the AHL because more players will be able to keep up with him.  I think the best way to work Mats into the lineup might be to put him with  a some size and grit on the one hand, but on the other he might be just what an Alex Frolov needs to get going as the vision and passing ability of Zuke has been huge for players on the one-time shot in Connecticut. 

The way I would run tomorrow’s lines would be like this to start:
Brandon Dubinsky – Derek Stepan – Chris Drury
Fedotenko– Artem Anisimov – Mats Zuccarello
Frolov– Brian Boyle – Brandon Prust
Avery – Erik Christensen – Todd White

I think the move to put Dubinsky with Stepan and Drury will allow Dubinsky to be more offensive minded as Drury can be the “coverage” guy while Stepan can work on setting the table for Drury since he is not a player capable of creating it for himself.  As a combination they are defensively responsible as they will need to be against the Lightning and they have enough skill to create offense.  I like the idea of putting Zuccarello with Anisimov as Artie has size and strength to work in the corners and when he is right he attacks the net which will create opportunities for Zuke to find him.  Together those two can use their speed and creativity to cause problems for the opposition defense. As I said above the debate is about the other winger and while Fedotenko is someone Torts wants to keep with Boyle and Prust I would put him with Anisimov and Zuccarello moving Frolov back to the third line.  If he really wants to keep Fedotenko-Boyle-Prust together then Frolov likely plays with Anisimov and Zuke.  Either way I think the line can work, but it will certainly have a slightly different personality depending on the third winger.

In terms of Del Zotto I also have a conspiracy type take on the stomach flu thing cropping up following Tortorella not coming out and saying he would be in tomorrow and then again today in that same video not saying he would have been in sans the illness.  I will talk more about Del Zotto and Tortorella tomorrow in an article I originally planned for today.  Instead Matt Gilroy will get at least one more game in the lineup and I am going to be watching not only him, but both Rozsival and Eminger who have seen significant dips in their play of late in terms of who is deserving of being scratched down the road.

What do you make of Gaborik and the injury?  What are your thoughts on Zuccarello’s role and lines? MDZ?