Thursday, January 6, 2011

Give MZA an A

Okay, we're kidding with that fancy title. In all seriousness, we like Mats Zuccarello Aasen. Not just because the gifted 23 year-old Norwegian who looks strikingly similar to Marty St. Louis notched an overtime winner in a thrilling Ranger 2-1 home win over the Hurricanes. Sure. It was mighty impressive for the diminutive winger to pull off a tough wrap around finding twine from a small angle over Cam Ward, giving the Rangers a huge victory over a team chasing them.

It's just that there's so much to like about MZA, who also set up Matt Gilroy's third midway through the third in a scoreless tie. The kid who surprised many with a breakout '10 Olympics in Vancouver has plenty of tools. Something our No.1 Star Brandon Dubinsky was quick to point out after being involved directly in both goals, including a yeoman effort that created enough havoc for Zuccarello to score his first career NHL goal in style, touching off a St. Louis-esque celebration on the ice.

He has so much talent. He is going to be really special for us from his talent alone.”
With emotional leader Ryan Callahan out for at least another three weeks, John Tortorella who knows a thing or two about coaching talented undrafted smallish forwards, wants to find out about Zuccarello. Already we've seen the skills he possesses. The 5-7, 174 pound Nord isn't afraid to go into high traffic areas and will battle anyone as evidenced by his staredown with former Swedish Elite League teammate Victor Hedman. There's a reason he was named League MVP last year. These days, MZA seems more willing to do what it takes than ghost Marian Gaborik. Perhaps that's because of where he's come from. It doesn't excuse the Rangers' most talented player for why he remains stuck on 11 goals, unable to finish plays like the pass Artem Anisimov made in the third.

It's way too early to proclaim Zuccarello a Broadway hero. He's only played six games and is 1-2-3 with 13 shots thus far. As he continues to adjust to the best league along with whatever wrinkles Tortorella throws him, the mature Norway talent should be able to handle it. Especially how modest he was after scoring such a big goal.

I got lucky,” he chimed before noting the obvious about his size:

I have been like this for 23 years. I have had a long time to practice being small. I have to use being small to my advantage.”
I don’t think he lacks confidence,” Tortorella assessed. “Creative people need that.”
In any sport, mental toughness is essential for performing at the highest level. It won't get any easier for MZA or his teammates who now must go to Dallas and St. Louis Friday and Saturday before returning for two big games against Montreal sandwiched around the hottest team in the league Vancouver paying a visit to the Big Apple.

It’s huge. We wanted to come out and play the way we’re capable of,” leading point getter Dubinsky pointed out after snapping a two-game skid. “We found a way.”
Exactly what epitomizes this scrappy bunch who continue to bounce back from tough defeats and overcome adversity. A huge part of that is their goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who matched save for save with Ward in a highly entertaining affair that wasn't lacking quality scoring chances until Gilroy and Eric Staal exchanged goals, forcing extras. Both were outstanding with King Henrik making 31 stops while the former Conn Smythe winner countered with 33, including a highlight reel glove save on Dubinsky that him and Sean Avery looking skyward. In an important game against one of the league's best, Lundqvist was there for his team until their latest hero won it.

“We’re not the most talented group in the world, but the thing that is going to carry us through is to play as a team,” Tortorella remarked after his team improved to 23-15-3 at the halfway point, which is good for the East's seventh seed one behind Atlanta and just four off fourth Philly despite playing two more games. “That’s what has given us our first-half start.”

“We are halfway through now, and you can see the standings,” Lundqvist added. “It’s getting tighter and tighter. Coming off two losses, it was important to come back with a win.”

Exactly what the doctor ordered with an assist from MZA.

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