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SLY WILLIAMS
12-29-2013, 10:50 AM
Rangers odds-n-ends: Stralman, Stepan, Zuccarello skip practice, Staal works on conditioning, Del Zotto seeks offensive spark

BY Pat Leonard

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Rangers practiced hard Saturday afternoon at the Capitals’ Kettler Iceplex before flying to Tampa, where they will try Sunday night to redeem themselves from that 5-0 Marty St. Louis “love-fest” loss on Nov. 25, as coach Alain Vigneault memorably called it.

Here are a few odds and ends from Saturday’s practice and from the last few days:

1. Center Derek Stepan and right wing Mats Zuccarello sat out Saturday’s practice as they recover from the flu, but both of them will play Sunday night, according to the Rangers. Stepan and Zuccarello both played with the flu on Friday night, a team spokesman said, and they were feeling much better on Saturday morning but opted to rest as a precaution.

2. Defenseman Marc Staal went through his first full practice since his Dec. 7 concussion, but he has been ruled out for Sunday and needs at least a couple more practices before returning to the lineup. He’s feeling well, but his conditioning needs work after several weeks off and even more rest during the Christmas break. Staal was sucking wind – as were most of his teammates, actually – after a grueling finish to practice Saturday. He skated as a forward, not a defenseman, due to the team’s off numbers.


3. Anton Stralman skipped Saturday’s practice and is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury suffered in the first period of Friday night’s 3-2 loss in Washington, D.C. He is unlikely to play on Sunday but hasn’t been ruled out. If he sits – and he most likely will – rookie Conor Allen, 23, will make his NHL debut.

4. Michael Del Zotto said other than being broken down by Pittsburgh’s Brandon Sutter one-on-one off the rush on Dec. 18, he feels he’s been much better defensively recently, playing more minutes with Staal sidelined. Del Zotto understands, though, that he’s being counted on to produce offensively also, and he said he’s trying to push to get involved and produce and is hoping for the right bounce to get himself going.

Interestingly, when Vigneault was asked Saturday about Del Zotto’s solid play in a season-high 24:37 of ice time on Friday, the coach admitted Del Zotto was “better” but really danced around complimenting the 23-year-old too much. Strange.

5. Vigneault provided an honest critique of Rick Nash in Friday’s loss to the Caps:

“I see the will there,” Vigneault said of Nash giving effort. “(Friday) night, in my estimation, it was one of his more ordinary games lately. He got a few looks last night, got a lot of shots off … but he had better looks in the games before. Those guys, you talk about Nash and (Henrik Lundqvist), there’s one thing I know about those two guys: They’re committed, trying to do anything they can possibly do to get back on track. And we’ve got to be supportive.”

6. Captain Ryan Callahan skated for the second straight day, and for the first time in full pads, since spraining his left MCL on Dec. 10. Callahan did not update the media on how he felt, but he unloaded a rocket slap shot during practice that was encouraging. He is scheduled to return in mid-January.

7. Vigneault on whether he believes playing center accentuates J.T. Miller’s strengths:

“I’ve liked (Miller) better in the middle,” Vigneault said. “I’ve liked his responsibility with the puck and his responsibility without the puck. I’ve liked how he’s created stuff and used his size and his strength. That being said, though, as a player, being able to play more than one position is really important, being versatile is a big bonus for any player.

“He has been better in the middle,” Vigneault continued. “Right now, I don’t think I’m going to tinker with the lines. I like the way, I look at (Friday) night’s game, the power play gave us a goal, the penalty kill for the most part was pretty solid and found a way to chip in. Five-on-five, we were the better team, we created more chances; we didn’t finish. It's not because we’re not getting the looks or not getting the screens. We just had a tough time finishing (Friday) night five-on-five.”

8. The Rangers closed practice with a grueling three-on-two, three-on-three forechecking/battle drill confined to one zone. A few things stood out:

-Benoit Pouliot was absolutely on fire, abusing Henrik Lundqvist with wristers in the slot and tethering a beautiful pass to the crease that Chris Kreider smacked out of mid-air for a goal later, against Cam Talbot, I believe. Pouliot is on a six-game point streak, playing physically and with speed. I used his impressive streak as an opportunity to ask him Friday about Vigneault’s comment earlier this season that the inconsistent Pouliot sometimes went “to the moon” mentally, or lost focus. I was curious how he had responded to it.

“That’s the first time I’ve heard that,” Pouliot said, comparing it to criticisms he’s received over the years.

Asked if he laughed it off, Pouliot said: “No, I didn’t laugh it off. I listened to it, but I don’t know if that was the problem.” He felt his issue earlier this season was more about putting too much pressure on himself to measure success with points, instead of just playing instinctively. Predictably, he also didn’t want to revisit the “moon” topic.

“Things are going well now,” Pouliot said. “I’m playing better.”

-Lundqvist’s body language showed a ton of frustration during that drill, when several Rangers scored and J.T. Miller screened Lundqvist on one goal, leading to the goalie shoving the center out of the crease. Lundqvist recovered, though, to deny Miller and others late, looking much sharper before completing practice as he prepares for his first start since Dec. 20 against the Islanders, a 5-3 Rangers loss in which Lundqvist stopped just 15 of 19 shots.

-Center Brian Boyle shattered his stick against the boards after a turnover and lost battle at the boards on consecutive sequences. He’s been a valuable penalty killer, but Boyle has struggled mightily this season in most other phases, particularly in the offensive end.http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/rangers/2013/12/rangers-odds-n-ends-stralman-stepan-zuccarello-skip-practice-staal-works-on-conditio

bsi
12-29-2013, 12:54 PM
I agree with DelZotto, I think he has been a lot better of late but the problem is that with offensive d men they have to be given some latitude to making mistakes. You cant be expected to be at both ends of the ice at the same time. Some of his mistakes are the result of poor support from the forwards, some are just bad decisions which a lot of offensive D make. I am not trying to make excuses for him but guys like Letang and Karlsson (not saying he is either one of them but offensive d men) are allowed to roam the ice without worrying about making a mistake, they have confidence going with it, something I think DelZotto maybe has been stripped off and as we watch him now and say he is playing better well its only because he has stopped rushing the puck as much, and for me thats the best part of his ability. If he just becomes a stay at home d then he is wasting his skills, he hasnt had the confidence since his rookie year.

Also with Staal...I wish he would realize he has no chance at team Canada and just sit out until after the olympics, get healthy and help us try and win some games down the stretch. I really hate seeing guys come back this quick from a concussion

SLY WILLIAMS
12-29-2013, 02:02 PM
The irony here is MDZ says he is being counted on offensively but if I was his coach I would try to build him back up by simplifying the game for him first. I would ask him to do 3 things.

1. Have good conservative defensive position.

2. Throw the body

3. Make safe first passes.

Only after he mastered those 3 things over the course of 5-15 games would I start adding in the offensive side of the game a little at a time.

bsi
12-29-2013, 03:24 PM
The irony here is MDZ says he is being counted on offensively but if I was his coach I would try to build him back up by simplifying the game for him first. I would ask him to do 3 things.

1. Have good conservative defensive position.

2. Throw the body

3. Make safe first passes.

Only after he mastered those 3 things over the course of 5-15 games would I start adding in the offensive side of the game a little at a time.

I agree, with McDonagh playin well offensively I think the pressure should be off him in that regard but if he were able to get it going it would be a nice benefit of having two guys who could kill you on the scoreboard. But I agree lets start with baby steps. I think he feels a little pressure with Moore being a similar player to be a little better than him in order to stay in the lineup.

nyr2002nyr
12-30-2013, 11:03 AM
I missed the 1st period yesterday but people are saying both goals were MDZ's fault does that sound about right?

Redfish
12-30-2013, 11:16 AM
I missed the 1st period yesterday but people are saying both goals were MDZ's fault does that sound about right?

I am not sure -- but, on one of the goals I think MDZ is being criticized for, I did not think it was his fault. A tampa d-man shot it from the point and Hank kicked it out maybe 10 yards in between the slot and right face-off circle. MDZ's man was shading to that side to begin with, got the rebound and beat Hank up top. I thought this was Hank's fault because he was very slow to get off his knees and, I thought, played it lackadaisically. Hence, he was beat over the left shoulder.

More important to MDZ's future, though, may be the play of Conor Allen. AV made a point to praise the kid after the game; he deserved it, as he played a strong game. But Allen is going to be the infamous "nail in the coffin" for MDZ, in my view. He plays a simple game and can move the puck forward; and is a better skater than MDZ, who is being marginalized by McDonagh (offensively), Moore (skating wise) and now Allen (defense; puck moving). Personally, an argument can be made that Moore should lose out in this competition and be the one traded if there is too much overlap; however, given the contract differences and that MDZ is a RFA w/arbitration rights, I don't see how he sticks with the team. Just a matter of time and patience by Sather.

redwhiteandblue
12-30-2013, 03:41 PM
I had high hopes for Moore, and will continue to give him a shot as a fan, but he will be the weakest link if/when Del Z is traded.

bsi
12-30-2013, 03:54 PM
Staal is back...who sits? What about when Stralman comes back? Just to fuel the rumor mill Yakupov is a healthy scratch tonight haha.

Redfish
12-30-2013, 04:04 PM
Staal is back...who sits? What about when Stralman comes back? Just to fuel the rumor mill Yakupov is a healthy scratch tonight haha.

Daily News is reporting from Rangers practice today that Del Zotto and Falk will sit if Staal (confirmed) and Stralman (to be determined) can both play tomorrow evening.