Mats Zuccarello’s value to the New York Rangers over the past few years has been undeniable. His creativity and tenacity have made him one of the club’s main drivers of offense. He has led the Rangers in scoring in two of the past three seasons, including last year when he had career-high 26 goals and 61 points.
This season, he has just 8 goals through 47 games, heading into Monday’s action. He is mired in a major goal-scoring slump, having lit the lamp just once in the past 30 contests. That one goal was also an empty-netter.
Yet somehow, he is as valuable to the Rangers as he has ever been.
Despite his prolonged goal-scoring slump, the diminutive Norwegian winger leads the Rangers with 37 points. He has been piling up assists, having accumulated 23 helpers over the same 30-game goal-scoring drought. Zuccarello also has seven assists in his past five games.
Playing on a line with Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider has helped create this uptick in his point total. Those two have combined for 30 goals for the Rangers this season, and have been the primary beneficiaries of Zuccarello’s vision and passing acumen.
It’s no coincidence that Kreider and Stepan started scoring goals at a higher rate once they were put a line with Zuccarello. “Zuke” (or “Zuuuc” as the Madison Square Garden Faithful affectionately calls him) has always been a distributor more so than a goal-scorer. As long as he is helping produce offense and the Rangers are winning, all is well for the Blueshirts.
While Kreider and Stepan have benefited the most lately from Zuccarello’s ability to facilitate, others have as well. This underscores the idea that Zuccarello really is the straw that stirs the drink for the Rangers offensively. J.T. Miller was the latest recipient of an easy goal thanks to a Zuccarello pass, as he scored the overtime winner against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday.
Yes, the play was a two-on-zero rush, so there was a lot of space for Zuccarello to make a play. Nevertheless, he executed the play to perfection to ensure a slam-dunk goal for Miller. As he closed on on Red Wings goaltender Jared Coreau, he made a very subtle shot fake that froze Coreau for a second. He then slid the puck right into Miller’s wheelhouse. Miller did not miss, thanks in large part to having a gaping net as a result of Zuccarello’s snooth fake.
A two-on-none rush represents a high-percentage scoring chance, but Zuccarello left nothing to chance with the play he made.
The Goals Will Come
The goals might not be there for Zuccarello right now, but the assists and overall production certainly are. So too are the wins for the high-scoring Rangers (despite some defensive inconsistencies), again highlighting Zuccarello’s integral role in the team’s success.
There is no reason to believe the production from the Kreider-Stepan-Zuccarello trio will slow down significantly. There is, however, reason to believe that Zuccarello will start finding the back of the net once again.
Zuccarello has a career shooting percentage of 10.9 percent. This season, that number has dipped to an alarmingly low 6.6 percent. Much of that has to do with a lack of puck luck. History and the law of averages tell us that we should soon see a regression (or really, in this case, a progression) back to the mean.
Even so, Zuccarello is on pace for 65 points, which would be a career-high. Not bad for someone who hasn’t been able to score goals lately. Once the goals do start pouring in, that’s just another offensive component for the Rangers’ opponents to worry about.