Mats Zuccarello’s response to his healthy scratch against Philadelphia has been nothing short of immense. At the time, Zuccarello was stumbling through the season doing nothing to warrant an extended future with the Rangers. Alain Vigneault was fully justified in removing the little Norwegian from the line-up when he did.
Since the 2-1 loss to the Flyers on the 24th October, Zuccarello has routinely flashed his high-end skill, perhaps encapsulated best by his perfect pass for Derek Stepan’s goal against the Penguins. Not many players would have tried that pass, let alone execute it so perfectly (the weighting of the pass was literally perfect for Stepan to skate to and roof past Fleury.)
With eight points in his last eight games Zuccarello has shown previously unseen consistency as –even accounting for the three assist splurge against the Hurricanes– he has only been held off the score sheet twice over that time frame. Not all is perfect though.
Zuccarello is struggling to score goals. With a dire 3.4% shooting percentage on the year Zuccarello isn’t hitting twine himself. Eventually opposing defences will begin to focus solely on the pass and it could potentially risk Zuccarello’s effectiveness long term. It’s fair to wonder what kind of goal scoring production we can expect when he has a career shooting percentage of under 9% in the NHL.
The problem isn’t opportunity. Unlike earlier in the season when Zuccarello wasn’t registering shots or getting chances, he has been regularly testing opposition goaltenders. Only once since that aforementioned Philly game has Zuccarello had less than one shot registered and again, versus Columbus Thursday night, he missed a glorious opportunity in front.
Is this is a legitimate concern? Right now Zuccarello is playing excellent hockey. He’s making plays, he’s buzzing around being a nuisance and he’s showing excellent chemistry with his linemates. Based purely on his recent stretch Zuccarello is pushing for more ice time and a longer stay with the Rangers. He’s started (finally) to look like a legitimate top six calibre forward.
The Rangers have returned to being a stingy team while at the same time are generating enough offense to win their fare share of games. Zuccarello has been a big part of that. It speaks volumes of the way the Rangers have turned their start around that one of the biggest gripes right now may be a lack of ‘finish’ from a guy with eight points in his last eight games. That’s the kind of complaint you want to have about your hockey team.