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Rangers Vs. Leafs: Mats Zuccarello Is The Bump You Hear At Night

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Notes from the Rangers win over the Maple Leafs.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

- I played a little game with myself yesterday and looked back at those dark 48 hours where the Rangers and Mats Zuccarello weren't close on a new deal and there were reports Glen Sather was shopping the pending UFA. I read through the comments on this space and some of the others, too. I went back to the day the Rangers finally signed him just to see all the people who thought he was too expensive -- actually not a ton of that here. And then I watched as those same people melted into puddles because of what he's been able to do this year.

- That would be, by the way, 18 points in 18 games -- sporting an even nine goals and nine assists. Zuccarello's career high is 19 goals and 59 points (both came in the same year). I would think about telling you he won't keep going at a 41-goal pace, but Zuccarello has a filthy shot and he's finally using it. Who is to say if he didn't shoot more last year or the year before he wouldn't be a 20 or even 30 goal scorer? I guess we'll see this year.

- Either way, Zuccarello is easily the Rangers most important non-Henrik Lundqvist right now. With Rick Nash still having no luck (do not read this as not playing well because it's not true) the Rangers have needed a few players to step up. Zuccarello has been the biggest one. Derick Brassard (13 points) has been another. Natural growth from Kevin Hayes (12 points) and Chris Kreider (10 points) have helped, too. As has the emergence of Oscar Lindberg (12 points).

- This might be the first game in a few weeks the Rangers actually out-possessed their opponent (to the tune of 48-41). The Maple Leafs had more scoring chances than the Rangers but outside of Dion Phaneuf's lucky goal to tie the game at three I never felt really uncomfortable. I know things got a little hairy at times but even on the late penalty kills the Rangers took care of business pretty cleanly. Not bad at all.

- Antti Raanta was very, very good. Made a few huge saves right after Toronto goals which helped calm the nerves a little. He continues to win at home in his career and do nothing but win for the Rangers. I've said it before but will say it again: This is why you trade high on backup goaltending. No reason Raanta can't play 20+ this year.

- Want to know who led all Rangers with a +11 even strength shot differential. Dan Girardi. Probably one of his best games of the year, highlighted by leading the breakout on the Ryan McDonagh goal. Not the hardest situation in the world, but credit where it's due.

- McDonagh had a game, too, he potted a goal and an assist along with a +10 shot differential. McDonagh has had some ups and downs this year, but his offense is really starting to come alone -- which is important. He has three goals and four points his last four games. The Rangers can use that extra juice from the blue line.

- Everyone is going to laugh on the Derek Stepan goal, but that can be a tougher shot than you realize. Of course you expect a goalie to have that every single time, but with the ice the way it was after the early Knicks game the puck took a bounce and snuck in. Stepan admitted to working on those kinds of shots in practice, too. And by the way, Phaneuf's goal took a hop on the ice and bounced over Raanta's glove. So, it happens. But you take the gift and run.

- The third line (Hayes, Lindberg and Viktor Stalberg) were punished for a Stalberg turnover that ended up in the back of the net and a Hayes turnover that almost duplicated the result. Because of that the fourth line played major minutes. Dominic Moore played almost 17, Jarret Stoll played over 15 (and took some critical faceoffs down the stretch) and Jesper Fast played 16 minutes himself. See what it's like having a real fourth line? It's nice.

- There is something very concerning about the way the Rangers have started the year. But there's also something really heartening about winning nine games in a row while the team's best scorer isn't scoring and the team isn't playing as well as they can. Obviously elite goaltending helped a lot down the stretch but there are two sides to this story. The Rangers will eventually lose and they will eventually slump but they're nowhere near as good as they can be and that's a good thing.