There's easily not a more polarizing player on the Rangers than Michael Del Zotto. You're either an apologist or you hate him. It seems like there's no inbetween. And it's easy to see why as he contains all the physical tools you'd want from a prototypical offensive defenseman, but unfortunately he will drive you insane with his numerous mental gaffes.
And because his offensive numbers have not masked his defensive deficiencies, Del Zotto has been on the trading block virtually all season. When Alain Vigeanult made him a healthy scratch for the ninth time this season against the Penguins on January 3rd, I didn't think we'd ever see him back on the ice in a Rangers uniform.
But that's all changed the last five games. Apparently, the left-handed Del Zotto recently met with Vigneault to inform him that he was not comfortable playing on the right side. So in an effort to jump start his embattled defenseman, Vigneault paired him on the left side with fellow under-achieving defenseman John Moore for the Jan. 4th game in Toronto and it's had a positive effect.
Since that modification to the lineup, Del Zotto has three assists, is a +5, has seven hits and eight blocked shots and is even receiving some praise from the coach who has seemed reluctant to do so this season (via New York Post)…
“He’s played all right,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “He’s going back harder for pucks, he’s taking the check to make the play. Defensively, there are still some areas there he needs to work on.”
…hey, that's not exactly a Norris Trophy endorsement, but compared to what Vigneault was saying about Del Zotto earlier this season those are some pretty hefty accolades.
So now the question is, why the hell didn't Del Zotto say something sooner or Vigneault try him on the left side on his own? Here's AV on why he had Del Zotto on his weak side (via Bergen Record)…
"That’s fine but then, if there are decisions to be made and you’re not comfortable and you’re not as versatile, sometimes you can be the odd man out," coach Alain Vigneault said. "I wasn’t trying to get him more versatile. I thought with his skill set he could do it and he just feels a lot better on the left side."
…i'm still not convinced that this mini-streak will save Del Zotto from being moved at the trade deadline, but I do think, despite AV's quote, that Del Zotto has solidified a spot on blueline for the time being. With the Carcillo acquisition, Falk's toughness has been minimized, and it didn't seem as though AV was confident in either Allen or McIlrath. So there's really no other competition for that sixth spot right now.
…while Del Zotto's renaissance has helped bolster the blueline (along with the return of Staal), I'm going to need to see this kind of effort in a larger sample before I'm ready to change my opinion of him. I'll absolutely give him credit for stiffening up defensively, but he's on this team to provide offense from the backend, so he's got a long way to go before proving to me he's turned a corner. One goal in the last 25 games just isn't cutting it.
…one thing I have been impressed with is Del Zotto's snarl the last few games. I've always felt he plays much better when he's involved physically. I don't know if it engages him more in the play, but when he's throwing body checks like the one Friday night against Dallas he's usually on his game.