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Zuccarello to Return; AV Says Defense Needs to Be Better; Callahan Hangover

Steve Zipay at Newsday reports that the Rangers have confirmed that Mats Zuccarello will return to the lineup in Carolina tonight for the first time since fracturing his hand during the Olympics.

…with just 19 games remaining, the Rangers need all hands on deck. I know some fans were looking for some line changes in response to the Rangers lack of offense recently, but AV has been pretty consistent with the lines this season, so expect Zuccarello to be back with Brassard & Pouliot while the other lines will remain the same.

…i'm really excited that Zuccarello will be able to work with fellow smurf St. Louis to help take his game to another level.

It's no mystery that one of the main reasons for the Rangers post Olympic struggles has been the defensive breakdowns, which Alain Vigneault addressed yesterday (via Daily News)…

“I know you’re talking about Klein and Stralsy, to some extent,” Vigneault said. “I do think they both can be a little bit better and they have to be a little bit better. I agree with that. A big part of our game is coming up clean, coming up together and making that first initial pass beating that forecheck. That’s when we’re at our best. That’s when we’re getting something on the rush, and then once we’re in the zone, then we can create a little bit more. But to do that you need that good first pass, and those guys have been a little bit off, and they need to be better (Friday against Carolina).”

…upon Klein's arrival in New York, he instantly solidified the Rangers back end, unfortunately, his game has slipped recently as he's starting to lose puck battles and not as sound with the puck.

…as I mentioned in my Maple Leafs game recap, I thought Stralman stepped up his physical game against Toronto, but his egregious giveaway behind the net basically lost them the game.

…if nothing else, my hope is the Diaz acquisition will serve as a wake-up call, because if these two, as well as J. Moore, don't step-up their game soon  they're going to be watching from the press box.

Also yesterday, Vigneault admitted that he's concerned about the team's mindset after losing their captain…

“I think all the coaches today, to some extent, talked to a few of the players. We know that (Wednesday) was a challenging day,” Vigneault said. “But just like – an example I can give you – the guys coming back from the Olympics, they have had a short hangover. It’s got to be over. (Henrik Lundqvist) needs to be the Hank that we saw before going to the Olympics. (Rick Nash) needs to be the same Nasher we saw. (Derek Stepan), (Ryan McDonagh), etc. We’ve lost our captain. Some guys have lost a very close friend. I understand the things that go with that, but we can’t suffer from it. The hangover was yesterday, and it has to be a short one.”

…i don't want to hit the panic button here, but for AV to acknowledge that the coaches had to speak with players about turning the page just shows you how big of a loss this was for the Rangers locker room. I still think the Rangers have enough veteran leadership to get over the loss of Callahan, but there's a real possibility this team's play could sag the next few games as they recover from the news. Having said that, winning cures all, so a victory tonight will go a long way towards getting the players in the right mindset.

Finally, my good friends at We Bleed Blue and Hudson Station will be hosting a autograph signing with Derrick Brassard & Cam Talbot on Sunday after the Rangers/Red Wings game…

Full disclosure, you do have to buy a ticket obtain an autograph, which you can purchase here.

Remember to follow me on Twitter & Facebook or e-mail me at nyrfan94@yahoo.com.

Kevin

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