MATT: For the second game in a row, my first star was Mats Zuccarello, who capped off his night with a goal and an assist in 18:58 of ice time. I think some were worried about how he'd perform after being taken off the team's top line, but thus far, it's been a great decision by head coach Alain Vigneault, as Zuccarello has a four-game point streak and multi-point games in four of his last eight contests. He finds himself in the right place at the right time, as evidenced by his goal last night when he buried a long rebound given up by Martin Brodeur. He's playing arguably the best hockey of his career, and now finds himself three points off the team lead of 23.
No. 2 was Brad Richards, who scored on a gorgeous wrist shot that beat Marty high stick side. Brad started his season so hot before dipping a bit, but it certainly seems like he's back to being the player we saw on the West coast. He has a six-game point streak, as well as goals in two straight after a stretch where he scored just once in 11 games. The thing I'm noticing most about Richards is that he's shooting the puck more. He finished last night's game with three shots and another five attempts, and was a plus-2.
My third star goes to Chris Kreider, who knotted the game up in its dying seconds by getting in the dirty area with Ryan Callahan. He picked up a loose puck and swatted it into the cage behind Brodeur, his fifth goal against the future Hall of Famer. Kreider finished the game with three shots on goal and another three attempts in just over 20 minutes.
JIM: I'm with you Matt, Mats Zuccarello played a terrific game last night and is in the midst of, perhaps, his best run of play since joining the Rangers. Zucc is playing with so much confidence now, and his work ethic is exemplary. Not only does he provide energy in the offensive zone, where his numbers have been terrific as of late and are overall quite solid on the season, but his willingness to play the 200-foot game has been a pleasant surprise. I'd still like to see him shoot more often, but Zuccarello did not hesitate on burying that rebound early in the second period---his only shot of the game, and third goal in as many games. You can see how much Alain Vigneault is trusting him, too, with a consistent larger role, as evidenced by his near 19 minutes of ice time on Saturday.
I am going to flip Chris Kreider and Brad Richards in my group of stars, making Kreider the No. 2 Star and Richards the Third Star. I just really liked Kreider's energy last night, and he was consistently on the puck and the first Ranger in on the forecheck. He played physically, as well, and was a presence all night. His goal was clutch as he again was willing to go into the tough areas in order to score a goal.
Richards played a very solid game, too, though missing on five of his eight shot attempts was a bit frustrating. Still his goal was a beauty, and he is in the midst of another really strong stretch of hockey right now. Though the Rangers did not score on the power play until Kreider's 6-on-4 goal late, Richards had the power play humming with crisp decisions and pass plays. His consistency this season in all areas of the offensive game has been a big pick me up for the Blueshirts.