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Strong defensive play leaves Del Zotto out of lineup

by Dan Rosen /

NEWARK, N.J. -- After watching his team put together it's most complete 60-minute, defensive effort of the season Wednesday in a 2-0 defeat of the Washington Capitals, New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said he saw no reason to change the lineup for his team's game Saturday against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.

That means defenseman Michael Del Zotto, who sat out the game in Washington with the flu, will be a healthy scratch Saturday in New Jersey. Justin Falk, who played 15 shifts totaling 8:57 in Washington, will be in the lineup and on the third defense pair with John Moore.

"In our first five games we had one game where I was pleased with how our six [defensemen] had played and that was the L.A. game," Vigneault said, referring to the Rangers' 3-1 defeat of the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 7. "The three after that I could have taken any defensemen out and they all deserved it. Nobody was playing really well then. They gave up 20 goals in three games. Michael was sick; we went into Washington and played our best game of the year as far as a group of six defensemen. Nobody deserved to come out. Everybody played well. That's why I'm sticking with the same six guys."

Del Zotto was a minus-6 with no points in the first five games of the season. He said he understands the decision as it was relayed to him and doesn't feel he's being singled out or made an example of for how the Rangers performed in going 1-4 and being outscored 25-11 to start the season. However, that doesn't ease his frustration or take away his disappointment in being a healthy scratch.

"All I can control is how hard I work and try to work my way back in," Del Zotto said. "You always want to play. You work this hard your whole life to play not to watch. This decision was made and there's nothing I can do about it. I had a good practice [Saturday], good hard work and come back at it [Sunday]. I'll cheer my team on [Saturday] and hope for another win."

The Rangers are going to need to find some more offensive contributors because they will be missing three players that were expected to play in their top six. Ryan Callahan is out three to four weeks with a broken thumb, Rick Nash is out indefinitely with a concussion and Carl Hagelin, who is on long-term injured reserve because of offseason shoulder surgery, has to miss at least another four games before he can return.

"Other guys on our team are going to get a bigger opportunity," Vigneault said. "There is more ice time there -- power-play time, penalty-kill time, 5-on-5 time, and hopefully somebody will be able to play well, grab that opportunity and give us a chance to win a big game."

One of those players is J.T. Miller, who was recalled from the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League earlier in the week and played about 10 minutes in the win at Washington. He'll start the game Saturday on the second line with Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello. Taylor Pyatt is playing on the first line with Derick Brassard and Brad Richards.

"I try not to put too much pressure on myself, just stick to the game plan," Miller told of his shift to a top-six spot. "I've got to play with speed, play on the forecheck. I've obviously got an opportunity to play with two really skilled forwards, which is an awesome opportunity and I've got to take advantage of it. Don't put too much pressure on myself to go out and play the perfect game, just got to go out and play. That's a big part."

Here is the lineup the Rangers are expected to use Saturday:

Taylor Pyatt - Derick Brassard - Brad Richards

J.T. Miller - Derek Stepan - Mats Zuccarello

Benoit Pouliot - Brian Boyle - Derek Dorsett

Darroll Powe - Dominic Moore - Jesper Fast

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi

Marc Staal - Anton Stralman

Justin Falk - John Moore

Henrik Lundqvist

Jason Missiaen

Scratched: Michael Del Zotto

Injured: Rick Nash (head), Ryan Callahan (thumb), Carl Hagelin (shoulder)


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