JIM: Prior to the game Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault answered a question about Mats Zuccarello, stating that the Norwegian had taken "a huge step forward" and has become one of the team's most important players. Wednesday night Zuccarello backed up his coach's words when it mattered the most, scoring with 7:17 to play to give the Rangers some life and then assisting on Derick Brassard's game-tying goal on the power play with under two minutes to play in regulation. The bigger moments do not scare the smallest player on the roster, one who I had thought played very well defensively, but had been quiet on the offensive end for much of the game Wednesday. A game, though, is 60 minutes long, and Zuccarello was in on the two clutch goals of the Rangers third-period rally. Zucc, who leads the team with 12 points in 11 games against Metropolitan Division opponents, is a huge reason the Rangers snagged a point in the standings Wednesday, and is my No. 1 Star.
My Second Star for the Rangers on Wednesday is defenseman John Moore, who earned the primary assists on the team's first two goals, played a season-high 20:50, and finished a team-best plus-two. This is the John Moore the Rangers were hoping to see this season after his strong play at the end of last year: using his elite skating to his advantage offensively, playing good solid hard-nosed defense in his own end, using his strngth for a more physical edge---just the complete package, which is what he gave New York on Wednesday. Carl Hagelin did most of the work on his breakaway goal in the second period, but it was Moore who made a subtley nice chip pass to get Hagelin off and running; but my favorite play of Moore's was his confident right-wing rush late in the third period in which he breezed past several Penguins before firing a hard shot on goal that was saved by Marc-Andre Fleury, but created the rebound for Zuccarello to score and get the Blueshirts back in the game. Let's see if this performance is one Moore builds off of moving forward because it was that good.
There are a few candidates for the Rangers Third Star, but Iam going with Carl Hagelin. He had only one shot on goal all night, but his goal late in the second period---a glorious breakaway rush and finish---was tremendously important because it tied the game 1-1 and kept New York from trailing entering the third period against the first place Penguins. MOments after his goal Hagelin used his speed to set up Benoit Pouliot in front of the Pens net, but Pouliot fanned on the shot. Alain Vigneault gave Hagelin some shifts on the top line with Rick Nash and Derek Stepan, as well, over his 15:43 of ice time, and Hagelin ends up as my No. 3 Star.
MATT: Hard to argue with Mats as the first star, so I won't. His goal to bring the Rangers to within one goal was absolutely huge for obvious reasons. As you wrote, AV praised Zuccarello prior to the game and the Norwegian most definitely backed up his coach's comments. The thing that impresses me most about Zuccarello is his fearless style of going right to the net, despite being one of the smaller players in the NHL. He slammed home the loose puck and got the Rangers going. On the game-tying goal, Zuccarello fed Benoit Pouliot with a pass right on the tape, and Derick Brassard buried home the puck after it came off the end boards. Zuccarello has been the team's most consistent forward, and his big-game performance last night allowed the Rangers to secure a point.
My second star is Carl Hagelin, who once again shined playing in the bottom-six. Like I said after Sunday night's game, I feel Hagelin's presence on the third and four lines gives the Rangers a balanced lineup throughout. Last night, though, it was Hagelin's speed that was the difference, as he exploded past the Penguins' defense in the neutral zone and displayed a slick deke move and tucked the puck through Marc-Andre Fleury's legs to knot the game. It was just what the Rangers needed at the time, a quick response in the first to tie the game late in the opening period. He's starting to look like the player he was when he got back in the lineup in late October, which not coincidentally, is when the Rangers were at their best this year.
My third star goes to John Moore, who quietly had one of his best games of the season with assists on the Rangers' first two goals. With Marc Staal out of the lineup, the Rangers have to fill that void, and last night that void was fill by Moore, who was very solid in logging more than 20 minutes of ice time. The thing that stands out with Moore is obviously his speed, but I think an aspect of his game that is vastly underrated is his physical game, both during play and between whistles. He loves to mix things up and give a facewash with his glove whenever the opportunity presents itself. Moore did a bit of everything last night, chipping in with the two assits, three shots, two hits and a blocked shot.