Friday, December 24, 2010

Rangers Must Find Spot For Zuccarello-Aasen As He Proves To Be NHL Ready

Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images
In his debut for the New York Rangers, Mats Zuccarello-Aasen did everything and more than the club and the fans could have expected.  Unlike with many rookies, including Derek Stepan, there was no getting of the feet wet in the NHL before being asked to move up into more important roles, rather Zuccarello was tossed in feet first on the Rangers top line with Brandon Dubinsky and Stepan.  Overall he would play 17:52 in his debut which he admitted after the game was more than he expected to play, but by the time the game was over there was no doubt that he had earned every second of ice he got on this night.  In his play he displayed all the attributes in his game from the skill in terms of his skating, passing, vision, and shot to his grit and willingness to play in tough areas to the attitude and belief he has in his ability and it will certainly leave every Rangers fan wanting more, though as of now we are unsure when exactly the encore will be.

In a move not dissimilar to that they made on Dale Weise following the Philadelphia game the Rangers sent Mats Zuccarello back to the AHL and the Connecticut Whale.  The main reason, at least the one given, is because the Whale plays their next game this Sunday, while the Rangers are off until Monday, December 27th.  No indication was given as to whether Zuccarello would be called up for the game on Monday at this time, but he certainly showed he is capable at this level on this night and whether he is here Monday or not he will be back in short order.  The main issues surrounding the decision come Monday will be the health of Marian Gaborik and if Gaborik is available whether there is another top 6 role for Zuccarello to fill because they do not want to bring him up for a non-top 6 role at this time.

Daily Recap: Rangers Fall in SO; Zuccarello-Aasen Brings Creativity; Video: Stepan, MZA goals; Ovie Hit

Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty
The final outcome of tonight’s game might leave a sour taste in the mouth of New York Rangers fans, but they should not be disappointed in the effort they saw from the team and they should be extremely hopeful for the future based on how their young players performed.  The Rangers were the better team on this night against the Lightning, but did not come up with the result and fans should know already it has happened on the flip side more than a couple times this season.  Once again missing key components of the club the other players on the team stepped in and battled and there is great pride to be taken from that.  So yes, the Rangers lost a heartbreaker in an 11 round shootout, but Stepan and Zuccarello showed the future is here and it is bright.  The full game story has details as always of the scoring plays and thoughts on who did and did not play well.

This morning I discussed how Mats Zuccarello-Aasen could add a level of creativity could add another dimension to the Rangers grinding type of game.  With the struggles of the Rangers two most creative offensive player Marian Gaborik and Michael Del Zotto the Rangers have found their identity in the grind it out type of style which has worked against most teams in the league.  The problem has been when it is not working they really have not had a Plan B, but someone like Zuccarello can help to provide that because he adds natural talent and some flare to the lineup.

A couple hours before the game started it was announced that MZA would be starting on the team’s top line for the evening.  The Norwegian Hobbit did not take long in the game to prove me right from the morning article giving a blind backhand pass from behind the net to Brandon Dubinsky in the slot for a scoring chance early in the first period.  He would keep up the solid play throughout the game and show a great combination of his creativity and skill on his sensational shootout goal.  The Rangers did send him down after the game, but I will have more to say on that Friday.

Other video from tonight’s game includes the magnificent tying goal that Derek Stepan scored when he showed the poise and patience of a ten year veteran not the nerves of 20 year old rookie as some might expect; a must watch.

The only other Rangers related piece was asking about the development of Michael Del Zotto and if the different things being asked of him by the coaching staff were negatively impacting that development and if the staff to limit certain problems is restraining Del Zotto from playing his natural game.

In events from around the NHL there was the video of Alexander Ovechkin laying the wood on Evgeni Malkin at the start of the hyped Capital Penguins game.  There was also a tremendous fight between Jarome Iginla and Jamie Benn that could well be a fight of the year candidate and took place in the Calgary-Dallas game.

Video: Jarome Iginla vs Jamie Benn In Knuckle Buster; Fight of Year Candidate?

LM Otero
Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn and Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla squared off at 7:19 of the first period in a tremendous fight that lasted over a minute.  Benn would clearly get the better shots early, but being as tough as Jarome Iginla is means you do not quit on anything and he would fight back to land some big shots of his own in this battle and probably won overall.  The damage side definitely goes to Benn, but he was out of gas early waiting for the linesman to step in a stop it while Iggy just kept pounding him.  Also if the guys are going to take gear off before the fight as Iginla did, then Benn should definitely have removed his helmet.