Mats Zuccarello had a very strong game last night. He may have played on the fourth line at even strength, but he was a crucial piece on the powerplay, especially on that 4-on-3 that led to the game winning goal. His final stat line was an assist, a -1 (useless stat), and 13 shifts for 10:40 in ice time. To put it in perspective, his linemates received 12 shifts and 8:02 in ice time (John Mitchell) and six shifts for 4:02 in ice time (Mike Rupp).
The fourth line received about six shifts of even strength time at roughly six minutes total. The ice time varies a bit between the three players at even strength, but that is expected. Mitchell received two minutes of powerplay time, while 60% (six minutes) of Zuccarello’s time was with the man advantage. For those who are going to argue that Zuccarello did not get a chance, there’s the proof that he did.
With that six minutes of powerplay time, Zuccarello did a good job in helping control and cycle the puck. He was an integral part on the Marian Gaborik game winner, even if he didn’t get an assist on the goal. He also had an assist on the second Brad Richards goal, also a powerplay goal.
Zuccarello joins the powerplay, and the Rangers go 3-8 with the man advantage. Let’s make it 2-8 considering the first was a Brad Richards end-to-end rush. That could be a coincidence, but it also may not be. Zuccarello excels when he has more ice to work with, and playing on the powerplay is no different.
However the issue still remains: how long does Zuccarello stay with the club? Ryan Callahan won’t be out for much longer. With John Scott already serving as the healthy scratch, the Rangers don’t really have anyone to cut from the lineup. It’s possible that he sticks around and rotates with Mike Rupp for matchup purposes. Looking at the schedule ahead, that may not be such a bad idea either.
The kid has slick hands and tremendous skill, he just hasn’t warmed up to the smaller ice surface yet. His immediate NYR future may be as a powerplay specialist, or as a shootout weapon. Those shootout points are going to go a long way now, especially with Pittsburgh gaining ground in the rear view mirror. I’m not the biggest Zuccarello fan, but he sure did prove he earned another shot last night.