New York Rangers Plan If Mats Zuccarello Misses Time


What should the New York Rangers plan be if Mats Zuccarello misses significant time due to the injury sustained in Game 5 against the Penguins?

Tangibles are easy to see. Things like Rick Nash’s shot, or Henrik Lundqvist’s reflexes, or Carl Hagelin’s speed are tangible qualities the entire crowd easily notices.

For owners and general managers, it would be phenomenal if tangible qualities were the only thing that made a Stanley Cup Champion.

In that case, you’d just gather the fastest, hardest-hitting specimens in hockey. Collect all the workout warriors, slap them together and call it a day.

As we all know, that is not reality.

Stanley Cup Champions are made up of so much more.

Real quality teams have layers of qualities. Some guys show prototypical talent, while other guys prove to be the glue of the squad. They are the ones that hold the intangible assets so many of us could only understand on the surface.

For every story we hear about intangible, team-oriented actions, there are 10 more just like it that we are unaware of.

For the 2014-15 New York Rangers, Mats Zuccarello most definitely falls in that group of intangible, glue guys. It’s not that he doesn’t have tangible qualities – like the best passer and puck control guy on the team – but he does so many of the little things.

Zuccarello took a Ryan McDonagh slap-shot in the head towards the end of the first-period in New York’s Game 5, series-clinching 2-1 overtime victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday night. He looked to be in major pain before heading to the locker room:

He did not return to the game, and as of this moment we still don’t know his current status.

It’s a troubling situation for the Rangers. Although, it’s a situation that is to be expected for this is the Stanley Cup Playoffs where injuries are never an excuse and should be expected.

The real question is this: what do they do if Zuccarello misses significant time?

What we saw Alain Vigneault do to the lineup to counteract Zucc’s absence was this:

  • St.Louis-Brassard-Nash
  • Kreider-Stepan-Miller
  • Hagelin-Moore/Hayes-Fast

He started rolling three lines instead of four, while mixing in Kevin Hayes on that third shift.

As all of Madison Square Garden witnessed, it was the Hagelin, Dominic Moore, Jesper Fast line who came through as heroes, scoring the game winner. What’s ironic is that those three guys represent an already intact team that Vigneault relies on down the stretch when defense is needed.

They cycle the puck very well and provided sustained offensive pressure in that overtime. Something that wasn’t seen very often that night.

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However, it’s not the backend of the lineup where the Rangers are hurt by a potential Zuccarello absence, it’s the top line.

Who can, or will be the guy to play with Derick Brassard and Rick Nash on that top line? Let’s be honest, Marty St. Louis is not the same guy we saw during last year’s run. Either father-time has gotten the best of him, or his leg injury towards the end of the regular season is still lingering.

Since Vigneault loves having J.T. Miller on that Derek Stepan line (as Miller frequently takes the faceoffs), expect St. Louis to be the winger on the top line. However, if St. Louis cannot keep the offense going, moving Kevin Hayes up onto that first line wing with Brassard and Nash could turn out to be a dangerous combination.

We would then look at a lineup like this:

  • Hayes-Brassard-Nash
  • Kreider-Stepan-Miller
  • Hagelin-Moore-Fast
  • Glass-Sheppard-St.Louis

I understand St. Louis doesn’t look right on that fourth line, but this would be the most logical looking lineup if he cannot produce towards the top.

That third line would by dynamite, as they’ve always proved when put together to finish games.

Next: Hustle And Flow Key Hagelin's Overtime Winner

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