Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
Rick Nash (r.) scores the third goal of the game that helps the Rangers build what ends up as an insurmountable 3-0 lead in a 5-2 win in Florida Wednesday.
SUNRISE, Fla. – Michael Del Zotto was forced to watch the Rangers’ ugly 5-2 win over the Panthers Wednesday night from the BB&T Center press box.
That was as much of a surprise to the defenseman as Brad Richards’ second-period insurance goal through two screens had been to Florida goalie Tim Thomas.
“I wasn’t expecting to be out tonight,” Del Zotto told the Daily News at the second intermission. “But I’ll keep working hard and try to get back in the lineup and do whatever they ask of me.”
The Rangers (13-12-0) bounced back from Monday’s 5-0 loss in Tampa, even if they played sloppy and at times looked eerily familiar to John Tortorella’s Rangers, hunkered down in front of Henrik Lundqvist. They nearly surrendered the 3-0 lead they’d built on Derick Brassard’s first-period power play tally and goals by Richards and Rick Nash. Florida’s Scottie Upshall and Nick Bjugstad each scored in the third to narrow New York’s lead to 3-2, before Mats Zuccarello scored on the power play and Carl Hagelin added an empty-netter.
J Pat Carter/AP
John Moore (r.) slides past Henrik Lundqvist but not much else does as the King stops 31 of 33 shots.
Still, Del Zotto’s fourth healthy scratch in seven games – and his fifth this season overall – with trade rumors swirling around him, made it seem more likely than ever that his days in New York could be numbered.
Wednesday’s scratch didn’t change Del Zotto’s desire to remain in New York – “It doesn’t change anything,” he said.
However, Del Zotto, 23, with a $ 2.55 million cap hit in the final year of a two-year deal, clearly did not understand Vigneault’s decision on Wednesday. After being scratched for three straight games Nov. 16 through Nov. 19, the former 2008 first-round pick reentered the lineup and played better in consecutive wins in Dallas and Nashville and in Tampa on Monday.
“I said before when I got scratched I wasn’t happy about it,” Del Zotto said. “Last game (in Tampa), aside from that first goal when I could have had tighter coverage, I felt I played a pretty good game, did everything they asked of me. I’m not playing tonight. I’m obviously not happy about that. But I’ll come to the rink every day with a smile on my face and work hard, be there for my teammates, and that’s all I can do. Whatever happens after that is out of my control.”
One reason why he didn’t understand the scratch may have been that he and Vigneault didn’t talk about it.
Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images
Derick Brassard (c.) opens the scoring and gets some handshakes from the Rangers bench.
“No,” he said. “You know what, we haven’t spoken since the last time I was scratched, I guess.”
While Del Zotto mostly has not played to his potential this season, Vigneault has had a quick hook for the defenseman, who has played mostly on the right side even though he’s naturally a left-side defenseman. The coach said pregame he wanted Justin Falk in the lineup instead to add “a little more bite” and preferred John Moore to this pint because he’s “shown he can beat the forecheck on a more consistent basis than Michael has shown me so far.”
On Tuesday, TSN in Canada reported there has been a “back and forth” between the Rangers and the Ottawa Senators about a potential deal for Del Zotto. TSN’s Darren Dreger said Senators GM Bryan Murray threw out the names of depth forwards Erik Condra and Colin Greening and defenseman Eric Gryba, but that the proposed deal was “currently not a fit for the Rangers.”
What happens, though, when GM Glen Sather does find a fit?
“If something happens, then it happens,” Del Zotto said. “It’s out of my control. I’m a New York Ranger. I’ll do everything I can here to be successful and help the team win.”
PYATT BACK, DORSETT SITS
Left wing Taylor Pyatt returned to the lineup for the first time since a Nov. 7 concussion and drew a first-period penalty that led to Brassard’s power play goal. Pyatt replaced Derek Dorsett (sprained wrist).