Michael Del Zotto wants to be the defensive spark plug the Rangers need

Two seasons ago, defenseman Michael Del Zotto surprised Rangers fans by making the team out of training camp. In his rookie season, Del Zotto was able to be an offensive helper on the blue line scoring nine goals and adding 28 assists. With that kind of point production from a then 19 year-old defenseman, the future seemed to be very bright for both Del Zotto and the Rangers.

As will happen on occasion to young players, they run into problems in their sophomore season and Del Zotto fell on hard times for sure. Del Zotto struggled defensively and lost his touch on offense leading to him being sent to AHL Connecticut after 47 games. In that time, Del Zotto had just two goals and nine assists and didn’t show the necessary improvement defensively for coach John Tortorella to keep him in the lineup. While the Rangers got solid play from Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, and Michael Sauer they lacked that offensive touch from the blue line and acquired Bryan McCabe to help out late in the year and in the playoffs.

Heading into camp this year, McCabe is gone and Del Zotto has lessons learned after spending part of the season in the AHL as well as having his season ended early thanks to a broken finger. As Andrew Gross of Ranger Rants shares, Del Zotto wants to prove he belongs in Manhattan this season and can bring some of that scoring touch back to their blue line.

“I’m pretty self-motivated,” Del Zotto added. “Especially after last year. This is a huge year for me. I’m all business.”

Del Zotto said the aim is to bring back the swagger he had as a rookie while not making the repeated on-ice mistakes he made last season (long, bad passes), not to mention correct some off-ice mistakes (no doubt, stay on the right side of being confident, as coach John Tortorella might put it). “I’m not going to be given ice time because of what I did my rookie year on the power play.”

Del Zotto knowing his place coming into camp will help him more than anything. Knowing that Tortorella already has a bunch of guys he feels comfortable with on the blue line means he knows he’s going to have to prove his worth. Del Zotto has the skills to be a very good offensive defenseman and at 21 years-old he’s plenty young to keep growing into his position and still has plenty to learn.

As it is, the Rangers set up with virtually the same guys they had last season on defense. Staal, Girardi, Sauer, Ryan McDonagh, and Steve Eminger are all back meaning there’s an opening in the top six for someone to grab on to. Del Zotto will be in the hunt as will summer rookie trade acquisition Tim Erixon with fellow youngster Brendan Bell with an outside shot.

The Rangers will be looking to up their offensive output this season with Brad Richards now in town to help spur that on. If Del Zotto can harness that offensive touch he had in his rookie season and pair that up with smarter play and defensive responsibility, he can help the Rangers establish themselves as one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.

Fight video: Flyers’ Manning vs. Penguins’ Gaunce

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Breaking: the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers don’t like each other.

The stakes might be higher for the Penguins than the Flyers – aside from those who still believe Philly has a shot at a playoff run – their rivalry rarely subsides.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Sunday featured at least one fight, with Cameron Gaunce squaring off against Brandon Manning in a pretty spirited bout.

Manning isn’t shy about fighting, by the way; this was his seventh bout of the season, according to Hockey Fights.

Higher on the radar for the Penguins is the situation for Conor Sheary, who has been absent from the ice since about midway through the first period. PHT will keep an eye out for updates on what could be yet another injury for the health-challenged Pens.

Dreading the work week? Watch this dog get ‘ice time’ with puck

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Life is difficult, complex and confusing. Good thing we have dog videos.

Forgive this video being one night late, but for those of us who watch cute animal clips, time is a furry circle. Or something like that.

Anyway, this golden retriever got a little “ice time” before the Washington Capitals’ game against the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday in what would end up being a 4-1 win for the Caps. It’s an excellent video featuring a top-notch, hilarious pooch.

Alternate joke: Now that is some puck retrieval.

Patrik Laine’s out sick for Jets on Sunday

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Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews are locked with identical goals (34), assists (27) and points (61) on Sunday, which is remarkable since Laine has played in 67 games versus 75 for Matthews. He won’t get a chance to beef up his numbers on Sunday, either.

It looks like the high-scoring rookie is missing the Winnipeg Jets’ contest against the Vancouver Canucks because of an illness, according to TSN’s Sara Orlesky.

The Jets are almost assured to miss the playoffs, so seeing Laine lose a chance to bolster his Calder argument adds a little extra sadness to the night.

NHL schedules hearing for Micheal Haley’s sucker-punch on Calle Jarnkrok

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The NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced a Monday hearing for San Jose Sharks tough guy Micheal Haley for his “roughing/sucker punch” on Calle Jarnkrok of the Nashville Predators.

The league didn’t specify if Haley will face a telephone or in-person hearing on Monday afternoon. They did, interestingly, use the phrase “sucker punch” in that official announcement.

Haley received a match penalty during the game. Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer was highly upset about the hit that inspired Haley’s actions.

“When you run someone from behind in a game like that, you probably deserve to get a punch in the mouth,” DeBoer told reporters.

In other bad news for the Sharks, CSN Bay Area’s Kevin Kurz reports that Logan Couture‘s situation isn’t looking promising after he was hurt on Sunday.