Line of Brassard, Zuccarello and Pouliot has excelled down the stretch
GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Alain Vigneault is fond of saying that the Rangers are most productive when he can dispatch four lines. But down the stretch, the most effective trio has been center Derick Brassard and wingers Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot.
During a time when struggling Martin St. Louis has been shifted from line to line, and with Chris Kreider sidelined with a broken hand, Brassard's line, also deployed on the power play, has been quick, consistent and impressive.
Zuccarello, who received the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award Tuesday, has 23 points in 23 games. Pouliot, whose 14th goal was the game-winner against Carolina on Tuesday, has eight points in eight games. Brassard has five goals and three assists in the last 11 games. They have recorded at least a point in 13 of the last 18 games.
"We're playing well together," Brassard said Wednesday as the Rangers prepared for Thursday night's game against the Sabres. "What I like about our line, there's no selfishness. Sometimes I think, 'maybe I'll get a couple shots,' but when a guy's open, it's [the puck] going. Whoever scores, everyone's happy. Every time you're open, you know the puck is coming."
Matchups have helped. With Rick Nash, Brad Richards, St. Louis, and Derek Stepan spread across two lines, "it's pretty hard for a coach to match our line. Some nights we'll have their third pair of defensemen and that's where we can take advantage," said Brassard, who has 18 goals and 44 points.
"When we have a good game, you can see their coach adjusting; we'll have another pair of defensemen or a different line and that helps other lines."
Zuccarello, in particular, is thriving, with a career-high 58 points. "He's such a skilled player," Henrik Lundqvist said. "Last year and the year before. it might have been tough with a different system, but now, with a system where we let guys play a bit more and give them more room to be creative, he's one of the best in the league to see plays open up and create opportunities for his teammates."
On the power play, Zuccarello and Brassard circle, with Pouliot in front of the net. "We didn't have much time [against Carolina] because the other unit scored goals in the first minute," Brassard said. "We can do a better job and if we do, we're going to be more dangerous."
Notes & quotes: Cam Talbot (12-6, 1.67 GAA) could start in Montreal Saturday. Eleven of his 17 starts have been on the road, including a 1-0 win at Bell Centre on Nov. 16 . . . Ryan McDonagh (shoulder) practiced in a non-contact jersey. He will miss his fourth straight game but is a possibility for Saturday.