Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stepan Back With Gaborik, Breaking Down the Healthy Scratch Contenders

Based on practice today there appears to be at least one change to the New York Rangers lineup tomorrow against the Buffalo Sabres and it has nothing to do with who the healthy scratch might be.  The lines that were reported from practice showed two that remained intact and the other have been shifted at the center position. Derek Stepan has been moved from his recent role as centering the fourth line to playing with Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal.  The move is one that coach John Tortorella has employed with Stepan already this year where he drops him down in the lineup when his game slips and then when he finds it again he moves back up.  Moving down in the lineup was Erik Christensen who after his four game point streak has gone scoreless in his last three. This move was done for large parts of the Boston game as well.

In terms of the healthy scratch for tomorrow it is a very safe bet that it will come from the foursome of Wojtek Wolski, Sean Avery, Mats Zuccarello and Erik Christensen.  Here is a quick breakdown of the candidates:

Wojtek Wolski: Wolski has been healthy scratched once already and has been scoreless in his last seven games.  Combine his lack of impact when he isn’t scoring with those facts and he is certainly a candidate to end up wearing a suit tomorrow night.  The potential skill of Wolski likely saves him for this game, but no telling for how long after that.

Sean Avery: Avery has been a scratch in four of the last six games, and only played 5:45 of ice time against Boston, but he was a spark with his fight and contributed that huge shot block late in the third so I expect him to be in again.

Mats Zuccarello: Zuke was scratched against Boston with the size of Bruins seen as a factor and that factor should not exist tomorrow Buffalo who has a number of small players of their own.  That said Zuccarello has seen his ice diminished significantly over his last six games before the scratch.  He has three assists in his last six game so while he is not scoring goals the combination of his even limited production with his effort might get him back in the lineup.

Erik Christensen: Christensen is by far the biggest enigma on this team in terms of figuring out what version of him is going to show up to the rink on a given night.  You can either get the guy who looks like a top line player and makes beautiful plays on the ice with and without the puck or you get a guy who looks like he couldn’t make a recreational league team and plays like a ghost in a uniform.  While Wolski and Avery have both played center at times in the past I think being a center is what saves Christensen for this one.

As of now I would assume that Zuccarello will be the odd-man out again as, but I would not discount the chances that it is Wolski who goes back to the pine given how little he is giving right now.