The Rangers beat the Capitals 2-0 in a game where they dominated play throughout, especially in the second period, and most importantly played their best defensive game of the season thus far. This was the same Rangers team who surrendered nine, six and five goals in three consecutive games before last night and looked like a completely different team.
The defense almost looked as if they’ve known head coach Alain Vigneault‘s defensive system of playing man to man (instead of zone, which the Rangers were used to playing in years past under John Tortorella) for a while now. So I ask you, what the heck changed?
How can the defense look like complete garbage just a few days ago and then shutdown Alexander Ovechkin and company in Washington?
Do I dare say that it was because defenseman Michael Del Zotto played in all of the previous three games where the Rangers were blown out, and was not in the lineup last night?
Due to Del Zotto coming down with the flu, he was replaced by a defensive defenseman in Justin Falk. Maybe the days off in between Saturday and Thursday did a lot in learning Vigneault’s system, or maybe with Del Zotto not playing and messing up his defensive assignments, the the Rangers’ defense was finally able to communicate better and stay on the same page for once.
Many Rangers fans have been saying for years now that while Del Zotto may have offensive upside to his game, his awareness and hockey IQ are just not up to par to play consistent solid defense in the NHL. He is only 23-years old, but is now in his fifth year in the league and still makes the same mistakes he made as a rookie. He was even sent down to the minors for a while in his sophomore year to work on his defensive game, and still fails victim to the same mistakes.
Whether it is missing a defensive assignment, being out of position or turning the puck over, I do not care how much offensive upside you have because your main job as a defenseman is to play defense, which Del Zotto has proved time and time again that he just cannot do.
Will he get any better? The potential with Del Zotto is still there being that he is still young, so anything can happen. But after how good the Rangers’ defense played without him last night, if I was the Rangers’ GM and a team was willing to trade a second- or third-line winger who can put the puck in the net every few games, I’d gladly take that deal in a heartbeat. Just saying.
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