Managing a long-term Mats Zuccarello injury

In case you missed it, Mats Zuccarello is out indefinitely with an upper body injury. Rumors are that this is a mild concussion, but a concussion is a concussion as Zuccarello took a hard slap shot to the head off the stick of Ryan McDonagh. Assuming this is long term, because with concussions that’s the only assumption you can make, then the Rangers are out a top line forward, and there is no one in or out of the lineup that can replace his production.

Instead, the Rangers are going to need produce enough from other parts to make the Zuccarello absence more manageable. You can’t replace a top line forward, but you can –quoting Moneyball– replace him in the aggregate. Zucc hasn’t put up many points in the playoffs, but his value is with his speed and puck possession skill. The Rangers have someone like that readily available in Carl Hagelin.

Hagelin’s overtime winner was the winger’s third straight game with a point (two goals, one assist), as he saw favorable ice time against the Penguins. Zuccarello was playing the off-wing on the top line with Derick Brassard and Rick Nash, but Nash is capable of playing the off-wing, leaving Hagelin able to play the strong side.

But let’s be real, Hagelin isn’t moving to the top line. This is why the Rangers got Martin St. Louis, even if he’s lost a step on his shot and on his skates. The guy still has tremendous vision, he plays a game comparable to Zuccarello, and he also plays RW. In all likelihood, we see St. Louis moving up to the top line with Nash and Brassard, the second line staying the same, and then a tinkering with the bottom-six.

With 3RW open, the logical guess is that Jesper Fast gets the spot, and that James Sheppard gets in the lineup to skate with Tanner Glass and Dominic Moore. Your third line will have Hagelin and Fast flanking Kevin Hayes.

Losing Zuccarello is tough, and on paper the Rangers may be able to manage in the short-term. However, the long-term effect will lie solely on St. Louis, who has seen his on-ice skills diminish, although his hockey IQ is still one of the best in the game. The Washington Capitals are a tough team that will give the Rangers fits, especially without Zuccarello. However, the Rangers will win IF:

  • St. Louis can, at a minimum, replace the production and possession rate of Zuccarello.
  • Fast can provide some semblance of offensive outburst that helps the third line continue to be an offensive threat.
  • Sheppard can effectively replace Fast on the fourth line in a defensive role.

None of these are guarantees, although the last bullet point is the least likely to be a concern. If all three bullets are met, then the Rangers should be able to weather the storm. Those are big IFs though. The Rangers are in for a tough stretch with Zuccarello out.

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  • Your first bullet point scares me as St. Louis has been a possession black hole all season.

  • So losing Zuccarello sucks…Period! That said this team has dealt with adversity all season long. Lundqvist was hurt, Mc Donaugh, Stepan, Klein…I could go on, but they have seemed to thrive on adversity and step up as needed. Sheppard will come in to the line up and we will lose skill level with this swap, but we will gain size and have an extra center in the line up. Also, for what it’s worth Sheppard had a good showing last year in the play offs for SJ, in spite of their collapse to the Kings in Round 1. The size will be a benefit to us vs the Caps.

    • My biggest concern is MSL replacing the possession rate of Zuccarello. I honestly don’t know if he can, based off his previous few years. That will be the biggest difference we notice, as Sheppard on 4RW over Fast will be a negligible difference.

      • Fully agree. MSL’s possession numbers have been a problem and his overall play has not been up to par. Although hope is never a good strategy we have to hope they moving back up to the Brassard line can light a fire underneath him.

  • The loss of Zucc is manageable if MSL can play to what we all expected of him, and that is questionable. Having said that, MSL will elevate his game, if there is a game left, and the rest will take care of itself.

    As for moving Fast up to the third line, well his speed, defense, and overall play will improve that line, IMO. The speed alone may be the biggest factor, along side of Hags, and may drive the Caps nuts. If anyone will get a boost from this move, it will be Hayes.

    Sheppard going to the fourth line, that is exactly what we have been asking for. Will it hurt us, I think not. He is sound on “D”, can switch with Moore if need be for face offs, and has the element we need the most SIZE. After watching the series against the Isles, these Caps are big mothers, and they like to throw their weight around. Time will tell how we play against the Caps, but the loss of Zucc may not be as devastating as some may think.

    Mats, my little man, our sparkplug, get yourself well ASAP, for us, but more importantly, for yourself!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • My only concern with Fast on 3RW is that he’s not as “feared” offensively as MSL, thus the third line may not be viewed as an offensive threat.

    • Yeah Walt, the Caps play dirty. That last regular season game was awful. The Caps tried running the Rangers every shift.

      The good news for the Rangers is that the Caps can’t hit what they can’t catch. The Rangers should be able to turn this series into a track meet while Staal and Girardi do their usual job of shutting down Ovi in the postseason.

        • I think the Isles were trying to slow the game down much like Pittsburgh. Losing Hamonic really messed up the Isles. It forced Boychuk, one of the guys that drives their up tempo play, to deal with Ovi all series. Once the Isles lost Viz and then DeHaan they had no choice but to slow the game to a crawl.

          Yes, the Caps can skate, but all 4 Rangers lines and the constant pinching from the aggressive Rangers D can put the Caps on their back foot and make them look very slow.

          • Yea their D injuries killed them. No Hamonic, as you said, pushed Boychuk from into a shadowing role. Then when they lost Viz and de Haan, they lost their ability to push the play up the ice with their defense, forcing their forwards to go 200 feet.

            The Rangers don’t have those issues, but losing Zucc potentially hurts their matchups, since it’s on MSL to replicate Zucc on the top line, and on Fast to provide some offense to make the third line a continual threat. Otherwise the top two lines are going to get smothered.

          • Exactly Dave, the Isles were forced by injuries into playing the same type of game as Pitt. The Isles just have four lines of NHL caliber players so they didn’t look as outmatched as Pitt did.

            And of course, you’re right about the potential heartache losing Zucc can cause. MSL on the first line makes me a bit nervous, but I’d rather not put MSL back with Kreider and Stepan, we know that line doesn’t work. I think Brassard and Nash can help carry MSL and in turn MSL will be able to chip in some offense playing with those two.

            Fast on the third line doesn’t bother me at all. Fast is a smart player, he’s not MSL, but he can do a lot of things to help keep plays alive so that Hags and Hayes can get their shots. I wouldn’t be shocked if Jesper chips in two key goals this series.

  • I think Zucc is out until next year. You do not take chances with a concussion. That said, MSL needs to step up. We also need the 4th line to bang bodies and Kreider/Stepan/JT to do more. Team game, team effort. That’s who we are and that’s how this will need to play out. Everyone does more.

    I also think Sheppard knows this was the only way he was breaking back into the line-up. Show everyone why Slats went and got you.

  • Why not leave Fast on the 4th line and slot Sheppard on the 3rd? I’d rather keep that 4th line intact, it had a good series vs. Pitt.

  • Dave,

    Where are these “rumors” coming from. I see your post stating rumor has it as a “mild” concussion. I’ve seen other rumors stating it’s a major concussion to the point where Zucc could barely say his name. Are there any sources here or is this just irresponsible rumormongering?

  • I read something on the internet, mild concussions for athletics only take 2 weeks to come back, it has been one week already, so when he can come back and play?

    also, no reporters asked AV a constructive question about Zuccarello’s injury…I would ask AV if Zuccarello needs surgery or not? if he does, then he broke his jaw, if not, he had a concussion.

    • I’m sure reporters have been asking all sorts of questions about Zucc’s status and I am sure AV ducked each and every question. There is nothing to be gained by the Rangers giving out any info on Zucc’s status. If he’s out, Washington doesn’t know that and has to spend time game planning as if he will play.

      Of course it can get frustrating for us fans, but if keeping injury info a secret gives the Rangers even the slightest edge, I’m ok with the lack of information.

      • If it’s only a concussion then it comes down to Zucc being symptom free for a few days and then being able to work out without recurring symptoms (nausea, headaches, sensitivity to light, dizziness). Once we hear Zucc has resumed practicing with the team then he should be back in the lineup shortly thereafter.

        • Hopefully that’s the case.

          The odd thing here is that I’m hoping it’s a broken jaw, since Stepan only missed one game with that. They can give him a face guard and call it a day. Concussions are much trickier and there’s never a time table for those.

          • We won’t see Zucc again this season. Let’s move on and hope that he gets better

  • Hayes to Zuccs spot
    D. Moore to Hayes spot.
    Lindberg to D. Mooe spot.
    if MSL is badly outplayed afte the 2nd game move Shep in
    lastly if needed Shep switch with fast.

    • Hartford is in the playoffs, I doubt they call up Lindberg, since he’s not a big upgrade on Sheppard and he’s not a top-six forward.

  • Though Zucc will be missed, Shepherd brings more size and defense against a very physical team. Zucc wasn’t exactly continuously lighting the goal light against the Penguins, but his quickness and puck possession will be missed somewhat. The added size and defense of Shepherd may be a blessing in disguise in a long tough series. Hopefully Klein will be back in decent playing shape. We will need his physicality. Rangers in six or seven! Hank will stand on his head!

      • I wouldn’t worry about the lack of scoring in the Pens series. Part of it was Fleury morphing into Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek for ten days and the other part was a complete unwillingness on Pitt’s behalf to open up the game.

        We know Washington can’t sit back like Pitt did. Washington is going to be running around so much trying to take the body that there will be all sorts of open ice for the Rangers to exploit. Also, Holtby has played way too many games this year. He’s a potential weakness the Rangers could exploit this series.

    • Craig. Although I agree that Shepp´s make up makes for a good fill in against this particular team. I don’t think we should change how we play in general. I’m confident that if we play Ranger Hockey, we should have no big problems getting past these scums. Over the year, we’ve proven that we can beat the big physical teams like Bos, Chi, LA, St.Louis etc.

      What worries me is how this series is going to be officiated! There was a stark difference on how our series against the Pens was called, opposed to how the Isles-Caps series was called. Especially now, because correct me if I’m wrong guys, but isn’t it the same 3 Zebras now for every game of each series? If that’s the case then if we get the same refs as The Isles series, it can get a lil crazy out there.

      The Caps constantly played a dirty, nasty series, with a lot of antics after the whistle and the refs allowed a lot of crap get by like interference, clutching, hooking etc. See what they did to Visnovski?

      Again, I believe, even without Zuuc. If we just play Ranger Hockey, they are going to have to hard time catching us. However, In my opinion, not having Zuuc, really suxxx!

  • Just saw the practice updates from the beat guys. MSL with Nash/Brass, Fast with Hayes/Hags, and Sheppard with Moore/Glass.

    Those lines are no-brainer from AV’s style. We all agree terrible losing Zucc, but we just got bigger and meaner with Klein and Sheppard in this line up, and that will help against these Caps. Stick with our system here!

    Fleury looked better than Holtby to me in round 1.. Interested in the goalie scouting by Justin.

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