November 15th was the last time that Mats Zuccarello scored a goal that wasn’t an empty-netter. Since then he has one goal, an empty-netter in Texas, in his last 29 games. And believe it or not, that’s just fine.
Zuccarello may not be scoring goals like he was last year, but he is still creating offense and contributing. There’s little doubt that he is one of the Rangers’ best forwards and that goes far beyond his counting stats.
And even though he is currently trying to escape a 6.6 shooting percentage (a career low) his counting stats are still damn good.
Chris Kreider is the only Ranger with more primary points with Zuccarello at even strength this year. Which is really saying something because the diminutive winger has only has four even strength goals.
Zuccarello might not be finishing on his own chances, but he is regularly producing scoring chances for his teammates. On a Rangers team that has leaned on its offense all season long, Zuccarello’s contributions in the offensive zone have been invaluable.
Through 44 games Zuccarello has 12 primary assists at evens this season for the Rangers. That puts him among the league leaders in that category and ahead of players like Ryan Getzlaf and Nicklas Backstrom. Last season he finished with 15 primary assists at even strength.
The fact that Zuccarello hasn’t scored a goal on his last 52 shots has more to do with misfortune than a lack of skill. And there are clear signs that he’s been hunting for a goal. In Zuccarello’s last four games he has put 22 shots on net.
A big part of Zuccarello’s dip in goal scoring is Zucarello’s modest power play production this year. The only Rangers’ forward with a lower power play PDO than Zuccarello is J.T. Miller (who has just 56:30 TOI). He has just two power play goals this year, last season he finished with seven.
The Norwegian wonder is shooting just 9.72 percent on the power play. That ranks 96th among NHL forwards with at least 100 minutes of PP time this year. Lower even than former Ranger Derick Brassard who has just one power play goal with Ottawa this season.
The law of averages tell us that Zuccarello’s goal scoring should rebound in the second half of the season. Until that happens, the Rangers will just have to make due with his superb playmaking skills and his outstanding puck possession.
Stepan goal. Nifty little pass from Zucc pic.twitter.com/HvG8vpHorm— Dave Shapiro (@BlueSeatBlogs) December 28, 2016
Zuccarello and Kreider are the only Rangers who have played in at least 40 games with possession numbers that are in the green this year. Clearly, he brings a lot more to the table than highlight reel passes that Merlin would struggle to make.
In all likelihood Zuccarello will finish the season with less than 20 goals. Which some might consider a disappointment after he buried 26 last year. But he is still on pace to finish with more points than the 61 he had last season. And if that happens it would be a new career-high for Zuccarello.
Not bad for a 29-year-old winger with a $4.5 million cap hit. Not bad at all.