Rangers defense makes critical blunders in 2-1 loss to Lightning

Brad Richards
Brad Richards had the lone goal in the Rangers’ 2-1 loss.
Credit: Getty Images

It is not breaking news that head coach Alain Vigneault has been dissatisfied with Michael Del Zotto’s play throughout the 2013-14 season.

Two glaring mistakes made by the beleaguered defenseman Tuesday night at the Garden may hastened his departure from the only NHL franchise he has ever known.

Del Zotto and partner John Moore had their ice time diminished drastically following two disastrous second period shifts in the Rangers’ 2-1 loss to the Lightning Tuesday night.

“[Their] second goal was a little bit disappointing — not to say frustrating — because it was something we talked about [Tuesday] morning and shown on video,” Vigneault said. “They [ran] the exact same play a couple seconds before — three shifts before as a matter of fact.

“So [we] went through it this morning, just happened a couple minutes before and for them to get the breakaway off that was certainly very disappointing.

Entering the second period, the Rangers had a 1-0 lead on the strength of Brad Richards’ 12th goal of the season 11:55 into the game.

The lead dissipated in a span of nine seconds.

Victor Hedman drew the Lightning even at 1-1 with a power-play goal 1:10 into the second period after Ryan Callahan was whistled for high sticking Ben Bishop. On the ensuing faceoff, Nikita Kucherov beat Del Zotto to the middle of the ice — inexplicably, Del Zotto was gliding toward the boards – and subsequently tucked his seventh goal of the season past Henrik Lundqvist (23 saves).

“There were two mistakes,” Vigneault said of the sequence that led to the game-winning goal. Benoit Pouliot attempted to challenge Radko Gudas, allowing Kucherov to head up ice untouched to start the play.

“One of them was the forward going out to their ‘D’ and giving them that time and our ‘D’ not picking up the forward. Two simple reads.”

Following the goal, a portion of the crowd loudly chanted “Trade Del Zotto.”

Two shifts later, Del Zotto misplayed the puck along the boards, leading Chris Kreider to take a hooking penalty on Tampa center Tom Pyatt.

Even though Tampa did not convert on the power play, the playing time for Del Zotto and Moore was limited. Del Zotto took 11 shifts and Moore only eight the rest of the game. Del Zotto finished with 21 shifts totaling 15:14. Moore skated 12:04 spanning 18 shifts.

The Rangers envisioned Del Zotto developing into an offensive defenseman when they used the 20th-overall pick in the 2008 draft on him. However his stock has fallen rapidly following his rookie season.

During the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign since-fired coach John Tortorella said he was worried Del Zotto would not mature to the point where he could quarterback the power play.

This season, Del Zotto has been scratched nine times and has been the subject of unrelenting trade rumors, so much so that his representation met with Rangers general manager Glen Sather in Toronto on Jan. 4 to talk about their client.

In 37 games this season, Del Zotto has totaled two goals and eight assists for 10 points, with a minus-4 rating and eight penalty minutes. He has 120 points (26 goals and 94 assists) and a minus-3 rating with 114 penalty minutes in 287 career games.

Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.


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