Friday, April 1, 2011

Mats Zuccarello Sent Down To Connecticut, The Right Move For Him

According to the AHL transactions log the New York Rangers have sent forward Mats Zuccarello down to the Connecticut Whale.  The move is not that surprising considering Zuccarello was a healthy scratch for two straight games prior to last night and was largely ineffective during his ice time against the Islanders.  This past Sunday I wrote that sending Zuccarello down to the minors was the right move if he was either going to be scratched or play under 10 minutes a game because at this stage of his career playing time is the most important thing. 

Zuccarello has special skills and will be a very solid NHL player when the time comes, but right now he is inconsistent and still has things in his game that can use work.  Going to the Whale and playing 20 minutes a night in situations that allow him to better succeed is the best thing for him long term. On the season Zuccarello, 23, has 6 goals, and 16 assists in 40 games for the Rangers.

Rangers Go From Seen As Contenders To Hoping To Avoid Playoff Collapse In Just Days

What a difference a few days makes.  Just two days ago the New York Rangers were being talked about as a potential sleeper team to come out of the Eastern Conference and potentially with the Stanley Cup by Puck Daddy.  It was certainly difficult to argue with the timing considering the Rangers were on an 8-1-1 stretch that had seen them win with huge offensive outputs and win purely on defense along with the goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist.
“There's a lot to like with the Rangers right now. They can win by scoring goals, having popped in more than four in five of 12 games this month. They can win the close ones: Witness the 1-0 victories against Florida and Boston last week. They pay the price, blocking more shots (1,299) than any team in the NHL. And then there's Lundqvist, who has been like a force field back there at times.
Is it time to move beyond the fact that this team is going to be a pain in the rump to face in the Eastern Conference playoffs, and start treating the Rangers as serious contenders to make a run this spring?”
Fast forward after two bad performances that resulted in losses and the focus shifts back from what the Rangers can do in the playoffs to whether or not they will even get in.  Their seven point lead on Carolina that had fans counting down the magic number is suddenly down to just three points.  Now the scoreboard watching ramps up again and the fear is not about choosing which opponent they want to play in road one, but if the team will manage to hold the spot in the new season at all.  After the disappointment of last year and missing the playoffs by just one point the last thing this franchise needs would be a collapse in the last six games leave them just short once again.

Missing from these last five games is a lot more than just the ability to score goals which has now seen them only put home five goals in five games.  It is more than the inability to play anything that resembles defense in route to getting Henrik Lundqvist pulled against the Islanders.  What is really missing right now is the urgency and sense of team that this group has played with all season.
For the first 72 games of the year, while having the occasional clunker, this team has come to play hard, tough and together.  Over the last five outings that cannot be said about any of them with the exception of the game in Boston last Saturday.  The team was lucky to get away with it against Florida, salvaged a point against Ottawa and then played relatively well against Boston so the signs of them falling down were brushed aside.  After the last two games those signs are written in neon lights and cannot be ignored.
That the team has been flat and seemingly disinterested for two of the final six games of the season while having clinched nothing in terms of the playoffs is disheartening.  What makes it so tough to swallow is the fact this team has been all about heart and being bigger than the sum of the parts this season so it comes as a shock to see them go about the finish in this way.  Puck Daddy was right that the Rangers can be as dangerous as any team in the Eastern Conference once the playoffs start, but they have to finish the job and get their first.
The team will have the next two days to find whatever they have lost sight over the past 10 days and bring that back to the ice Sunday against the rival Flyers and for each of the final four regular season games or all the work of the first 70+ games will end up having been in vain and the result will be the same as last season when the playoffs start; New York watching.  I expect the young leadership like Ryan Callahan and Marc Staal to take their teammates to task for the pitiful efforts of the past few days and come out with the necessary fire and intensity on Sunday.  The question now might just be, will waiting until Sunday mean they suffer a similar fate like last season where they are left to wonder all offseason about how any one game being different changes their ultimate fate? 
For now the answer is still in the Rangers own hands as they control their destiny the rest of the way, but any more slips and they will become a passenger in someone else’s story.  The fans have to hold out hope that the team will respond to this downturn the way it has to all the others throughout the year even if this one has a completely different feel than any that have come before.