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Del Zotto flexes his talent in OT win

Defenseman made up for mistake with four-point outburst to beat Devils

Saturday, 09.25.2010 / 11:12 PM / News
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com

Michael Del Zotto could not have scripted a poorer start to his first pre-season game of the year on Saturday night. Fortunately, he could not have thought up a better conclusion, either.

Del Zotto more than made up for an early giveaway which helped the Devils grab a 1-0 lead as he scored the game-winning goal and totaled four points on the night in the Rangers’ 5-4 overtime victory over New Jersey at the Prudential Center.

“That was a tough start, but I am glad I got the chance to redeem myself,” said Del Zotto following the club’s second straight overtime win to start the preseason.

Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto celebrates his game-winning goal in overtime on Saturday, as Devils forward Travis Zajac shows disappointment. The goal was Del Zotto's fourth point of the night.
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On his second shift of the night, Del Zotto surrendered the puck at his own blueline to the talented combination of Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. Seconds later, Kovalchuk buried a feed from Parise and the Rangers were in a 1-0 hole just 2:51 into the contest.

Instead of looking for a hole himself to climb into, the 20-year-old defenseman stepped forward and played a major role in the Rangers’ come-from-behind victory. Del Zotto earned three assists, all on the power play, during the third period, as the Rangers wiped out deficits of 3-1, 4-2, and 4-3, and then buried the game-winner -- also on the power play -- 52 seconds into overtime.

“It wasn’t fun,” Del Zotto said of his early mistake. “It’s not often I try and make the simple play, but that’s what I was trying there, just trying to flip it into open ice, but Parise made a good play to bat down the puck. Kovalchuk then made me pay, that’s for sure.”

From that point on, it was Del Zotto making the Devils pay. The second-year pro never lost his composure or confidence the rest of the game. And when he had the chance to shine on the power play, he did just that, helping turn the game in the Rangers’ favor.

“We know he has that, he is not afraid, which is what is so great about him,” Rangers head coach John Tortorella said of Del Zotto. “That’s what we love about him, that he’s not afraid of anything. But it’s just being consistent and taking what teams give him.”

When the Devils gave Del Zotto and his teammates four power plays from late in the second period until late in the third, the smooth-skating blueliner had his opportunity to make amends for his early miscue.

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Del Zotto played a big role in quarterbacking the Rangers power play to capitalize on all four of those man-advantages. He earned the primary assist on Matt Gilroy’s power play goal early in the third period and the secondary assists on extra-man tallies by Artem Anisimov and Ruslan Fedotenko midway through the final stanza.

He then put an exclamation point on his stirring performance by hammering a left-wing shot past a diving Johan Hedberg with David Clarkson in the penalty box to win the game.

“(Ryan Callahan) put it right on my tape, and I was kind of off balance,” Del Zotto said of the game-winning goal. “I took a quick peek up and saw that (Hedberg) wasn’t in the net, so I took my time because I knew if I missed it I would’ve been hearing it from the guys.”

On a day that began with the team placing veteran defenseman Wade Redden on waivers, several younger defensemen stepped forward to play key roles in the win over New Jersey. Along with Del Zotto’s four-point night, Gilroy chipped in with two power-play points, and Pavel Valentenko impressed with a gritty, physical outing.

“The thing with Matt Gilroy is that I think he is really making an attempt to defend the proper way and to defend consistently,” said Tortorella. “He doesn’t always do it right, but I know that there is a much more conscious effort in trying to do that.”

When his defensive game is on the mark, Gilroy is also able to make a difference on the offensive side of the puck, which is the part of the game that comes more naturally to him.

That is exactly what took place on Saturday.

Rangers forward Artem Anisimov goes airborne after colliding with New Jersey's David Clarkson Saturday night in Newark. Anisimov later scored a third-period power-play goal with Clarkson in the penalty box.
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“That stuff just comes easy for me, especially when I play with (Del Zotto),” said Gilroy. “I just have to stay focused on the defense and then go from there.”

All three young defensemen in the lineup played a huge role in killing off 1:57 worth of a two-man disadvantage early in the second period, certainly one of the biggest moments during the game.

Gilroy and Valentenko were paired on the ice along with Ryan Callahan -- with both youngsters taking turns making solid decisions in their own end. Valentenko stood out by blocking a shot and proceeding to clear the puck down the ice, killing valuable time off the clock during the Devils 5-on-3 advantage.

While that one play was a key one, Valentenko also made himself noticed throughout the game by throwing some big hits.

“He played well,” Tortorella said of Valentenko, who was acquired along with Ryan McDonagh from Montreal in the Scott Gomez trade two summers ago. “He stands right in there as far as the physical play. He’s willing to take a hit to make a play. He’s cocked and ready to shoot the puck. He’s an interesting one.”

The evaluation process continues for Tortorella and his staff when the Rangers visit the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday afternoon.

Should Del Zotto be in the lineup again on Sunday, one can only surmise that he will aim for a better start than the one he had on Saturday. But it’s a sure bet he’ll take a similar outcome.
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