JIM: Boy, you can make the case for quite a few Rangers to be named Thursday's No. 1 Star, or for that matter to be included anywhere in the top three. Every single player contributed to what mounted to a convincing home-ice victory, with all but Brandon Mashinter recording at least one shot on goal in a 46-shot effort. That said, I am choosing Mats Zuccarello as the Rangers No. 1 Star in the 2-0 win over the Sabres. It was, by far, his best performance of the season as he played with confidence, creativity,and as if he was shot from cannon! His legs never stopped moving, his head was always up, and the puck always seemed to be on his stick in key moments. He finished with one assist and could have---and should have---had at least a couple more. I also really liked that he finally shot the puck---five shots last night, after recording only 13 in the first 11 games of the season---and how he defended in his own end, even contributing a pair of blocked shots to the stat sheet.
My No. 2 Star is Henrik Lundqvist, who found himself needing to make a slew of big saves late in the second and in the third period despite his team's oft-dominating play. Since the Rangers only scored twice against Ryan Miller espite the wide disaprity in shots, every difficult save Lundqvsst was forced to make was a huge one because it could have been a game-changer had Buffalo managed to score. Lundqvist finished with 29 saves for his 47th career regular season shutout, and second already this season. He has stopped 54 of 56 shots in two starts since returning from injury.
My Third Star is Chris Kreider, who very well could have been No. 1 again as he was Tuesday on Long Island. He is playing with such confidence now, and he is leading this Rangers team by example---playing hard, fast, and with passion. He scored a pretty goal in the second period---and a clutch one, too, as it doubled the Rangers advantage---and he recorded six shots on goal.
MATT: For two games in a row, I'm going with Chris Kreider as my first star. Since he's been up, he's been the most active and noticable player every game, and has completely changed the dynamic of the Rangers. Kreider picked up another goal last night, and while it may not have been a highlight-reel tally, Kreider was in the right place — around the net — at the right time — picking up a rebound. His emergence since being recalled has changed the lineup completely, as he's really showing a chemistry playing with Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello, which has become the team's best line.
That leads me to my second star, Mats Zuccarello, who had by far his best game of the young season, and has played well since his sratching in Philadelphia. Zuccarello just creates space on the ice because defensemen must respect the skill the forward possesses. As you said, Zuccarello just sees the ice so well and is so effective along the boards. He's greatly improved the power play over the last several games, and has also been very effective on the penalty kill, taking over the time that was being given to Jesper Fast. The Rangers are still searching for more offense, and Zuccarello will definitely be a catalyst for discovering it.
My final star goes to Henrik Lundqvist. While he may not have been tested much in the first half of the contest, Buffalo came out hard later in the game and applied pressure. The game was lopsided, but with the two teams being separated by just two goals, Lundqvist had to be sharp and he was in picking up his second shutout of the season.
1. Chris Kreider
2. Mats Zuccarello
3. Henrik Lundqvist