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Vigneault: I was told Del Zotto is good, but I’m not seeing it

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If there were any doubts Michael Del Zotto was in the doghouse, his head coach erased them on Wednesday.

“I have been told he is a much better player,” Alain Vigneault said of Del Zotto, as per the Rangers’ Twitter account. “I have not seen that on a consistent enough basis.

“We’ll see how he responds.”

Del Zotto, who has been a healthy scratch in three straight games, will likely draw back into the lineup for Thursday’s game in Dallas, which could be a showcase more than anything else. Trade speculation has heated up around the 23-year-old rearguard, with reports surfacing on Tuesday night linking Del Zotto to Ottawa.

This development marks a pretty quick fall from grace for Del Zotto. Last season, he signed a two-year, $5.1 million extension and proceeded to score 21 points in 46 games, leading all Rangers defensemen in scoring.

Through 16 games this year, he has just four points and is averaging a career-low 18:28 TOI per game.

Worth noting that it’s not uncommon for Vigneault to put defensemen in his doghouse. He routinely banished Keith Ballard to the press box during his time in Vancouver and, prior to Ballard, often made Shane O’Brien a healthy scratch (though to be fair, Ballard was used sparingly because he didn’t fit the Canucks’ scheme; O’Brien’s issues often stemmed from a lack of fitness and maturity.)

Del Zotto hasn’t said much in response to being a healthy scratch but, following his third straight game in the press box, admitted the situation was getting to him.

“Frustration,” he told Newsday. “It’s something you never want. You always work so hard to play and you always want to be playing. And that’s what I’ve done my whole life.”

UPDATE: We do read the comments section on PHT and appreciate feedback, and it appears some have taken issue with this headline. I genuinely don’t think it’s an issue but, since some do, here is the entire quote (courtesy the Bergen Record).

“I can only speak for what I’ve seen so far, and what I’ve seen so far on our team as far as our defensive corps is playing, is he’s fighting for one of the regular six spots,” Vigneault said. “A player like Michael has to play to his strengths. I’ve been told his strengths are his ability to beat the forecheck, join the rush, help out on the power play and get shots through. I have not seen that on a consistent enough basis for him to be able to say he’s going to be in the lineup every night. Some other Ds can have an off night, you’re going to throw them back in even though they have. Michael in the 20 some odd games that I’ve been here has not shown that consistently enough.  We’ll see how he responds and we’ll go from there.

“He is supposed to be a skating defenseman that can beat the forecheck, that can join the rush and obviously has the ability to chip in on the power play,” Vigneault added. “That means he can get a shot through, he can see people that are open around the net. I’ve seen that throughout the span that I’ve been here but I haven’t seen it consistently enough to say he warrants a regular spot all the time. I can only go by what I’ve seen and with what my coaches are seeing. I wasn’t here in the past.”

As always, feel free to voice your opinions below.

Hitchcock believes Blues’ Allen is ‘locked up mentally’

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08: Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes the third period save against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on December 8, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Things were already rough for the St. Louis Blues and their goalies (particularly still-pretty-newly crowned No. 1 Jake Allen) heading into Thursday, but the Washington Capitals really highlighted those issues in a 7-3 thrashing.

Blues fans and management must be wondering, then: what’s wrong with their goalies, especially with Allen? Head coach Ken Hitchcock seems resigned to allowing him to fight through it, if nothing else.

“There’s a lot going on right now. … He’s kind of locked up mentally and he’s going to have to fight through this,” Hitchock said, according to Lou Korac of NHL.com. “What we see at practice, we like. That’s why we put him in quite frankly.”

Alex Pietrangelo did the typical deflecting thing, nothing that this is a “team” and that there are “no individuals.”

Still, Hitchcock’s longer press conference makes you wonder how much trust there is in Allen and Carter Hutton.

From Hitch’s perspective, it sure sounds like he believes that the Blues are over-correcting to try to limit “goals, shots.” By trying to do too much, they might be putting themselves in bad positions. And that might stem from a lack of confidence in the guys in net, or in the team’s work in their own zone overall.

Let’s be honest. As much as we can play chicken-or-the-egg as far as a defense’s impact on a goalie, it’s tough to explain away save percentages under .900 in the modern NHL. At some point, your team needs more stops.

With the races for the lower spots in the Western Conference’s playoff picture seemingly tightening up, the Blues don’t have a ton of time to figure this out.

Capitals shine glaring light on Blues’ goalie woes

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save during the first period against the San Jose Sharks in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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If you’re reaction to the headline “Something is off about the St. Louis Blues” was “Yeah, their goaltending,” then Thursday only emboldened that opinion.

It wasn’t just that the Washington Capitals bombarded the Blues by a score of 7-3. It’s that they really didn’t need to fire a whole lot of shots on goal to get to seven.

Here’s a harsh rule of thumb: when both of your goalies play in a game and each one barely makes more saves than goals allowed, that’s an awful night. Take a look at what Jake Allen and Carter Hutton went through:

Allen: six saves, four goals allowed in 25:11 time on ice
Hutton: five saves, three goals allowed in 35:49

Allen got pulled from the contest twice, by the way. He’s been pulled from four games since Dec. 30. Woof.

Even before these horrendous performances, the Blues goalies have been shaky. Hutton came into tonight with an ugly .898 save percentage; Allen wasn’t much better with a .900 mark.

Those are the type of numbers that would make Dallas Stars fans cringe, or at least experience some uncomfortable familiarity.

Now, is it all on Hutton and Allen? Much like with the Stars’ embattled goalies, much of the struggles probably come down to a team struggling in front of them.

Even so, if you assign more of the blame to Allen and Hutton, nights like this Capitals thrashing definitely strengthen your argument. Yikes.

Rangers overwhelm Leafs, make life pretty easy for Lundqvist in win

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 19:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers faces a shot in the warm-up prior to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on January 19, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Heading into Thursday, many were wondering how the New York Rangers will handle Henrik Lundqvist‘s struggles. Instead, the focus shifted to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ difficulties, perhaps specifically in dealing with Morgan Rielly‘s absence.

The Rangers handily won this one 5-2, at least giving Lundqvist the win. He wasn’t especially busy, stopping 23 out of 25 shots, so you can probably file his story under “To be continued.”

Lundqvist wasn’t oblivious to his team’s impressive overall play.

Really, it was all about the waves of attackers the Rangers can send at opponents and the trouble that caused for the Maple Leafs. It wasn’t the easiest night for Frank Corrado, in particular, who took a couple costly penalties.

The Rangers’ next two games come in a road contest vs. the Red Wings on Sunday and a home game against the Kings on Monday. Perhaps those matches will serve as a better barometer for where Lundqvist’s really at, as he passed tonight’s test … but it wasn’t a particularly difficult one.

So, is Mike Condon actually really good? He certainly was against Columbus

OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 8: Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators stands at the bench during a break in a game against the Edmonton Oilers at Canadian Tire Centre on January 8, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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Considering their numbers heading in, many were perplexed when the Ottawa Senators essentially replaced Andrew Hammond with Mike Condon. Now many are perplexed by just how strong Condon’s often been for Ottawa.

Thursday might stand as the prime example that this guy could be better than many expected.

The Columbus Blue Jackets dominated much of the play, generating a 42-28 shots on goal advantage, but Ottawa ended up winning 2-0 tonight.

Condon already came into tonight with a solid save percentage (.915 before this shutout), and he’s now won four of his last five games. Three of his four career shutouts have come this season.

Ignoring his one relief appearance with Pittsburgh this season for the sake of simplicity, just consider his tough times with Montreal last season. He went 21-25-6 with a shaky .903 save percentage.

This marks just his 21st start and 23rd appearance of this season, so it’s not a guaranteee for future results. Still … it’s another example that goalies are as just about as unpredictable as they are crucial to a team’s fate.

More and more, it seems like Condon might just be a difference-maker, and in the positive sense this time around.