Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Gaborik out tomorrow, Zuccarello up

Given how Marian Gaborik's played lately, something had to be wrong. Regardless of all the line combinations John Tortorella tried to get the star sniper untracked, he wasn't going. Aside from two hat tricks this season, Gabby's only scored in three other games for his nine goal total. Hardly the kind of consistent production you expect from one of the game's most lethal scorers.

As it turns out, Gaborik may have been playing hurt. He's already been ruled out for tomorrow's pre-Christmas showdown with Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and a Lightning club that's visiting Long Island a couple of hours from now. Taking his place will be Olympic standout Mats Zuccarello-Aasen who the club signed over the summer. The diminitive winger started the year with the new Connecticut Whale (formerly Hartford Wolfpack), getting out slowly. However, he's finally adjusted to the North American style and recently was on a tear, hiking his season totals to 13 goals, 10 assists and 23 points. So, the speedy 23 year-old Norwegian gets his shot. He does resemble St. Louis in size and style. Whether or not he plays like him remains to be seen.

Either way, we're about to find out what MZA can do. Who does Tort start him off with? Alex Frolov has been revitalized since playing with Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust. The enigmatic Russian set up a nice goal off hard work behind the net, dishing off for rookie Derek Stepan's ninth in a 4-1 loss to division rival Philly. Perhaps he sticks with D-Step and say Sean Avery, who needs more ice-time with Ryan Callahan out till February at the earliest. I'd keep Brandon Dubinsky with Artem Anisimov but aren't sure who should join them. If you put Ruslan Fedotenko on the top line, then maybe Avery since he mixes it up. But he plays the left side just like Dubi. So, probably no go. Do they try Zuccarello there? It seems like a risk but that line must produce. There's size, skill and speed.

I wouldn't mind seeing Tort try MZA with Boyle and Prust since their size and strength should benefit him, making it a good fit. Those are our energizers who seem to work well with anyone. Why not give it a shot? But where does that leave Erik Christensen? Simply put, you can't have Christy and D-Step together because they both play the same position. Plus there's also Chris Drury and Christmas ornament Todd White. It wouldn't be fair to either Dru or Christy if their ice-time is reduced. Ditto Avery, who's the whipping boy.

While we're on the subject of our roster, it looks like Mike Del Zotto could be riding the pine Thursday. He had a dreadful showing Saturday, committing two mistakes that led to goals against- finishing minus-three. What has to be remembered is that this is a 20 year-old defenseman in Year Two. As much as I've been on his case, the Blueshirts have to be careful how they handle MDZ. It's been a tough year for the former '08 first rounder, who's registered just two goals and seven assists for nine points but has an Even rating. It's not that he isn't trying. The 71 hits and 58 blocks attest to the young blueliner's competitiveness. He hasn't looked confident with the puck, forcing diagonal passes that get picked off and fumbling the puck at the point leading to shorthanded odd-man rushes.

I've maintained that Matt Gilroy has looked better recently and deserves another chance. Why Tort won't give him a go on at least the second power play unit remains a mystery. Sure. They've gotten surprising results from top tandem Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. But the lack of a true quarterback has haunted this club since Brian Leetch left. Our guess is Michal Rozsival gets first crack with D-Step.

If anything, tomorrow's game should be more interesting. And right before the post-Christmas Garden confrontation with the Islanders.

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