Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Daily Recap: Zuccarello Gets His Shot; Gaborik Hurt, Trend Yet?; Burden On Dubinsky; Kreider Feature

After a relatively slow week of news for the New York Rangers things got very interesting on Wednesday with the reports of Marian Gaborik having a groin issue and Michael Del Zotto having the stomach flu that will cause both of them to be out Thursday against the Lightning.  In response to the absence of Gaborik the Rangers called up the Norwegian Hobbit Mats Zuccarello from the Connecticut Whale and he along with Todd White and Matt Gilroy will be in the lineup tomorrow.

The Rangers calling up Zuccarello with Gaborik hurting was a no brainer.  As well as Dale Weise showed himself on Saturday he is more of a bottom six forward and with Gaborik out the Rangers needed more of an offensive threat and creativity from the move so they went with Zuccarello.  It is no secret that fans have been clamoring for this move for a little while and tomorrow night they will get their first glimpse of what he can do.  Hopefully for the fans he will be able to transfer his stellar play of the last 6 weeks in the AHL to the NHL, but either way do not judge the player based on just one outing as this city can be prone to do.  I expect that Zuke will be used in an offensive capacity on one of the top two lines, but as of now there is no definitive word on what players he will play with.  I discussed how I believe to best use Zuccarello in his debut and who I would pair him with at even strength in the article questioning what the Gaborik injury means about Marian recently and going forward.

Obviously on the other side of the Zuccarello excitement comes the negative of Marian Gaborik once again being out of the lineup.  Gaborik being out caused me to examine the different reactions in the afore mentioned piece titled, “Gaborik injured all along or made of glass.”  I believe there is some validity to the thinking of both groups though in the end I am afraid the second has more rationale right now.  The reason I say that is because of what coach Tortorella said in his meeting with the media today about Gaborik’s injury.  Personally I am more intrigued by how he talked about it as the tone and body language are saying as much as what he said regarding Gaborik.  Watch and let me know if you agree with the vibes I am feeling.

With Gaborik, Callahan and Prospal all out of the lineup tomorrow the burden of the offense rests at the feet of Brandon Dubinsky and let us hope with all those guys out that mental block Gaborik being in the lineup seems to put on him will disappear and the aggressive Dubinsky will return because the Rangers will need it.  Going against a talented Lightning offense it will be interesting to see how much defensive work they ask Dubinsky to do tomorrow given how much he is going to be needed to score some goals.  I believe Dubinsky is up to the task of carrying this team but as I said earlier this week the real question for Dubi is; does he?

Finally today there was the announcement that Rangers prospects Chris Kreider and Ryan Bouruqe made the final roster for Team USA and the 2011 World Junior Championships this Sunday.  In my write-up I have a quote from Kreider about the leadership he is trying to provide to the team in the absence of Derek Stepan who captained last year’s club to the gold.  Also there are links to the full roster, and Jess Rubenstein’s preview of the tournament over at The Prospect Park. 

Speaking of Chris Kreider, did a feature on him today which discussed his last twelve months in the good and bad parts of his play, but mainly how he has an impressive resume as a winner.

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?

Video: Tortorella Meets The Media Talks Lines, Gabby, MDZ, Prospal, Drury, Prust

Video via Jesse Spector of the New York Daily News has some very interesting comments from Tortorella on a wide variety of topics.  Here is a bullet point of my takes after the video: 

  • If you are to believe Torts then the theory that this is why Gaborik was playing so badly is debunked since he says clearly to start that it is a new thing for the last few days.  Maybe it is me but he sounded a little frustrated in talking about Gabby telling him he could not go in practice today.  
  • Interesting he did not answer Andrew Gross direct question about whether the sitting of Del Zotto was purely about his illness which makes me think he might have been sat down anyway.
  • The relationship Torts has with Prospal is an interesting and unique one in that he can rib him in the media and fully expects Prospal not only to take it the right way, but use it as motivation to be even better the next time.  Wish there were more players with that kind of attitude and approach. 
  • Statement that Drury will be on the wing contradicts the statement that he has not thought at all about lines
  • Love what he said to the inartful questions about Prust and wish he had the same approach to all players getting their opportunities because they earned them
  • Disdain for the Philly performance still very evident
Later tonight I will look at Gaborik's injury and what it might mean for tomorrow's lines against the Lightning.

    Mats Zuccarello Called Up By Rangers; Gaborik Hurting.

    In the breaking news department according the AHL transactions page the New York Rangers have recalled Mats Zuccarello from the Connecticut Whale this morning.  Zuccarello, 22, has 13 goals and 11 assists in 34 games this season in the AHL.  Beyond those overall numbers Zuke has been on fire of late scoring 7 goals and adding 9 assists in his last 14 games.

    Zuccarello is an extremely skilled RW with excellent speed, vision and playmaking ability to go with his scoring touch.  This move makes tremendous sense if Marian Gaborik who missed practice this morning, with a sore groin, is injured and might miss tomorrow's game against the Lightning as Zuccarello is the best prepared of all the players on the Whale to play a top 6 forward role.  The injury to Gaborik would answer some of the questions regarding his less than stellar play of late but would force more to be asked about when the injury started; why they did not sit him immediately; and the inevitable one about his fragility.  As Wild fans like to term him Groinik would not be a good thing.

    Update: For more on how I would use Zuccarello and who I would pair him with read this

    Rangers Prospects Chris Kreider, Ryan Borque on Final Team USA WJC Roster

    Ryan Bourque, Kyle Palmieri and Jeremy Morin are back to defend their title.

    This morning USA hockey announced their final roster for the 2011 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships and two New York Rangers prospects were among the final players.  2009 1st round pick and 2009 3rd round pick Ryan Bourque have both made the team as expected.  In addition to Kreider and Bourque who were on last year’s Gold medal team Jerry D'Amigo (Toronto), Jason Zucker (Minnesota), Jeremy Morin (Chicago), Kyle Palmieri (Anaheim), John Ramage (Calgary), Jack Campbell (Dallas) will also be returning looking for repeat gold.  The full roster for the club can be found here.

    The captains for the team were not announced this morning, but it is expected that Ryan Bourque will wear a letter for this club and possibly even the ‘C’.  

    Speaking of leadership in talking with TSN Chris Kreider had this quote:
    A big part of why we won last year was just how strong our leadership was and the core of older players that we have. I think that our returning players are trying to take it upon themselves to lead the way and set the culture that we had last year.
    If this team can come close to the leadership provided by Derek Stepan and John Carlson last year, then they will be right there when all is said and done January 5.

    The team begins the tournament as one of the heavy favorites to win it and their favorable preliminary bracket should help them to gain confidence and have a high seed going into the elimination round.  Team USA opens play Sunday December 26th against possibly the toughest competition in the group, Finland, at 8pm on NHL Network US.  

    Be sure to check out The Prospect Park's preview of the tournament including his predictions on group stages, when the US and Canadians will face off and who will win the whole thing.

    Daily Recap: Rangers Scout CLB Tonight, Trade Looming?; Dubinsky Own Worst Enemy?

    Today’s daily recap will be a little different because it will not just be links to all the days stories since there is a “fresh” one at the end of the day and I will just put it in here.  Over the past couple weeks there has been a lot of talk about the New York Rangers and the Columbus Blue Jackets hooking up for a trade with the talk that the Rangers inquired on Fedor Tyutin following his scratch and the Blue Jackets doing the same when Michael Del Zotto was sat for a game.  I have gone through both rumors with my thoughts on what potential packages might look like for them to get done, but there is fuel added to the fire tonight as the Eric Smith of Fox Sports Ohio sent along the following tweet:
    The scouts in the house for the #CBJ vs #Flames tonight are the #Penguins #LAKings & the #NYRangers. Let the rumors start about the Rangers
    There is always the possibility that the Rangers or either of the other two teams could be scouting the Flames as well since there has been a lot of talk of the Flames making changes, but let us focus on the Rangers and Blue Jackets once again.  The Rangers interest in Tyutin has been at least to some extent established with their inquiry into his availability.  The Blue Jackets are known to be in the market for a defender with offensive potential and while their inquiry was about Del Zotto one has to wonder if the Rangers are pushing Gilroy instead.  Gilroy is clearly the odd man out here and would certainly be a candidate for trade and while he would meet the offensive potential requirement he probably does not have enough value for Columbus to make that move. 

    I know the next two names every Rangers fan is going to throw out there to help seal the deal are Frolov and White, but stop before you even start as Columbus does not want another hope you can fix him Russian winger and White is less than useless.  One possibility that springs to mind though could be Erik Christensen though inconsistent as he is there is talent there and he has shown it slightly more often of late.  The need for another center is not great in Columbus as they have Brassard, Vermette and Pahlsson, but Christensen could move to the wing.  Do not know how interested Columbus would be in EC with his inconsistent history or if Tortorella and Sather with their affinity for giving him chances would part with him.

    Personally with the Rangers faceoff disaster I am starting to wonder if part of the intrigue to Columbus is their depth on the dot that maybe Pahlsson is the move Sather really wants to make as he would be a great weapon for defensive draws instead of making Drury take the majority of them and his 51.9% success rate would clearly lead the Rangers among anyone qualified with enough draws taken.  The problem with Pahlsson is he has another year on his deal at 2.65 million which is steep for a guy who is mainly a face-off specialist. 

    In the end there could be a lot of moving parts to any sort of Columbus deal and nothing can happen until the roster freeze is over but the longer this deal goes on in terms of speculation the more nervous I get about simply because I do not see a natural fit for either side in what gets dealt.  The Rangers are in a place where the youngsters are maturing, while at different rates, and as uplifting as the overall play is and last week in particular they still are not a contender this year so to sacrifice young players currently here, upper prospects, picks, or dollars down the road would be a mistake in my opinion.

    Tell me who you think could be involved because your guess is certainly as good as mine.

    In terms of the normal recap this morning’s article was on Brandon Dubinsky and the two distinctly different forms his offense has taken in the two sections of the season thus far.  I looked at the differential in production from the first twenty games against the last 15 and causes for the differential.  The purposed was to try and determine if Dubinsky is now top line quality or just the same inconsistent scorer he has been the last few seasons with a more consistent all-around game.  The reality for me is the skill is improving and he has the potential to be a top line guy as he showed early in the year, but there is one thing standing in the way of that happening.  The problem is no one can fix that problem except Dubinsky himself.  Find out what I believe that problem is inside.

    This afternoon I put up the announcement that the NHL Network would be showing all of the Team USA WJC games starting this Sunday as they go for a repeat gold.  Also inside is a schedule of when the Team USA squad which boasts Rangers prospects Chris Kreider and Ryan Bourque will be playing in the tournament in Buffalo, so check out when you can catch the Rangers prospects in action.