With the New York Rangers winning three of their last four games prior to the NHL All-Star Break, we examine both positives and negatives.
The New York Rangers won three of their last four games prior to this weekend’s NHL All-Star Break festivities. Despite a Philadelphia Flyers shutout at The Garden taking us into the weekend, the team seems to have their groove back.
With Henrik Lundqvist climbing out of his recent depths of mental despair, the Rangers have some breathing room for the top wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and will look to continue accumulating points when they resume their season against John Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, January 31.
You can picture it.
Like a kid in a June classroom at 2:59 p.m. ET, counting the seconds until summer break. Insert fan favorite Mats Zuccarello, counting the seconds until he can suit up again against Columbus.
To put it bluntly — Zucc is on fire.
Through his last 24 games, Zucc has padded his stats with 23 points. Yes, you read that correctly. Admittedly, only two of those points have been goals, and for a guy who lit the lamp a career-high 26 times last season, his current pace for 15 total goals is concerning. However, as Ranger fans are well aware, Zuccarello’s importance as a team leader, playmaker and enforcer (wish this last one was a joke) go well beyond his goal scoring numbers.
Despite the scoring slump, Zucc’s pace puts him at 64 points. This would be three more than last year’s career high of 61 points for the tiny Norwegian. Furthermore, his shooting percentage right now is a career low of 7.1 percent. You have to think at some point soon, Zucc’s puck-luck will turn and he’ll begin finding the back of the net with regularity. He did find twine against the Kings on January 23 and the boisterous reaction of both his teammates and the Garden faithful literally speaks volumes.
You could argue that Zucc is having his finest season in the NHL, despite his struggles to score. In short, Zucc cannot wait to get back out there.
Flipping the coin, the break could not come at a better time for youngster Jimmy Vesey. While his rookie campaign got off to an extremely promising start, he’s cooled off considerably as the calendar months have flipped by. Vesey had five goals in October (his first month of NHL hockey), slotting him just one behind rookie phenoms Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, respectively the first and second overall picks in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He also compiled three goals and five assists in November, while establishing himself as a force on the forecheck to go with top-six skills on the puck.
Unfortunately, as the Counting Crows would tell you, it was a long December for Jimmy the Kid, where he totaled five points and endured a seven-game pointless streak. Things have not gotten any easier for Vesey to start 2017, as he hasn’t amassed a single point in any of the Rangers’ 10 games while losing ice time and concluding the month at a -9 +/-.
Things are not all too bad, though, as Vesey sits seventh on the team with 11 goals. The all-star break gives Vesey a chance to regroup, recharge and reestablish himself as the consistent contributor that the Blueshirts will need him to be if they’re serious about contending come springtime.
Let’s not forget Vesey played a grand total of 33 games last year while captaining Harvard hockey, 15 fewer than he’s totaled so far this season. Expectations also need to be checked, as he’s a rookie with a chance of eclipsing the heralded 20-goal mark in his first NHL campaign. With his undeniable talent and a good head on his shoulders, Jimmy will be just fine.
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