November 1, 2013 9:15 AM
Crushed Ice: Mats Zuccarello no longer in own way
BY Pat Leonard
Mats Zuccarello said Tuesday morning that he may have put too much pressure on himself early this season, when injuries to Ryan Callahan, Carl Hagelin and Rick Nash thrust the Norwegian winger into a prominent role accompanied by higher expectations.
“Honestly at the start of the season, we had a lot of injuries, so I had an opportunity, but I think I felt the pressure,” Zuccarello told the Daily News. “You want to show them (the coaches), ‘Hey, I can play.’ But I have to keep it simple, make the simple, easy plays, and not put so much pressure on myself like I was in the beginning.”
Zuccarello’s early lack of production led to a healthy scratch in Philadelphia last week, but sitting that game also woke him up: He scored his first goal the next game in Detroit, notched his first assist Tuesday against the Islanders and assisted again on Chris Kreider’s goal in Thursday’s 2-0 Rangers win over the Sabres.
The line of Derek Stepan, with Kreider on the left and Zuccarello on the right, now has generated consistent momentum for two consecutive games. Thursday, they combined for 18 shots on goal.
“A big part of our line right now is Chris Kreider, the way he’s moving his feet, he’s on pucks,” Stepan said. “And when he does get pucks, he’s getting the puck to Zucc, and Zucc’s making plays. I don’t know how many times tonight Zucc(arello) made a big pass that really breaks down a defense and allows us to kind of get those chances in tight. Those are our two big keys to success tonight.”
Zuccarello also had his share of glorious scoring chances that he couldn’t finish due to Sabres goalie Ryan Miller’s spectacular night. Miller jabbed his right pad against the post to stop Zuccarello’s wraparound in the first period. Then, in the second, Miller absolutely robbed Zuccarello, making a kick save on his shot from the slot before Kreider smacked the rebound in off Miller from the wing for the 2-0 lead 11:21 into the second period.
Zuccarello said after the game he “couldn’t believe” Miller had stopped that shot. The little Norwegian demonstrated how sure by raising both of his arms as if he’d been a split-second away from celebration.
But it all worked out, and this is two straight games now that Zuccarello has played his best this season.
“Hard work,” Zuccarello said. “Hard work.”