Del Zotto Solidifying Rangers’ Blue Line In Staal’s Absence

With Marc Staal out indefinitely due to a right eye injury, someone of the Rangers’ blue line needed to step up their game and take on a heavier load.

Michael Del Zotto’s puck-moving talents and offensive gifts are obvious to the eye, so it’s easy to pick apart his game when he’s not scoring goals or making the kind of passes that spring teammates rushing down ice.

Over the course of this shortened season, Del Zotto hasn’t matched the level of last year’s breakthrough season.  It’s understandable why certain segments of the Rangers’ fan base have expressed their disappointment with Del Zotto’s overall play.  With 19 games left in the regular season, Del Zotto can put all of that is in his rear view mirror by finishing strong and making a difference in the Blueshirts’ quest to lock up a playoff seed.

John Tortorella admitted that his blue liners, not just Staal – but also a whole slew of active Rangers defensemen are pushing through the pain barrier.

“He’s been fairly consistent for us through here, on a banged-up blue line,” Tortorella stated.  “Guys that are playing are pretty banged-up and Marc being out, we’ve asked him to do quite a bit, and I think he’s handled it pretty well.”

At this time of the season, big contributions from Del Zotto would come in handy.  He unleashed five shots against in Monday’s victory over the Carolina Hurricanes and picked up a goal and assist in Tuesday’s confidence-building win over the Devils at Prudential Center.

Over the past two games, Del Zotto has rediscovered his wizard-like passing abilities.  Derek Stepan feels the momentum has been building for Del Zotto.

“He sees the ice so well,” Stepan said after Tuesday’s victory. “When he’s got the puck on his stick, he knows where the open ice is and is able to make good passes like that.  His game is getting better each game.”

It wasn’t Del Zotto’s baseball swing goal, or his assist on Rick Nash’s game-winner that impressed Tortorella the most.  What Tortorella came away most impressed was his defensive instincts in the final moments of the third period.

“He made a great defensive play at the end of the game.  I’m not sure who was on the side of the net when they passed it across and he defended really well there off that far post,” Tortorella explained.  “Huge play, because that guy is going to bang it in the net.”

Nash is impressed with the attributes Del Zotto brings to the table.

“He uses his skills to his advantage,” Nash said.  “He’s a good player, he’s got good vision.  He’s got some good hands, good skating ability — and definitely a top guy I’ve played with.”

If Del Zotto can put it all together, it will make loss of Staal less-glaring.  It’s unclear whether Staal’s eye injury will force him to miss all or most of the remainder of the regular season.  Either way, it doesn’t look like he’ll be back any time soon and Del Zotto will be leaned on to fill an important role for the Blueshirts going forward.

You can follow Sean on Twitter — @HartnettHockey.

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