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W2W4: Lightning vs. Rangers

Thursday night begins a nice stretch of games for the Rangers against less-than-top-tier opponents and an opportunity to pick up some serious points in the standings. But standing in their way Thursday at the Garden will be the Tampa Bay Lightning. Here are three factors to monitor when the action starts.

MZA’s In

Marian Gaborik is ailing with a strained groin. While the Rangers say the injury isn’t serious, the combination of the words “Gaborik” and “groin” never really inspire too much positivity. But while the injury will deprive the Blueshirts of their top offensive threat, it will provide fans with their first regular-season glimpse of top prospect Mats Zuccarello, who was called up from Hartford. This is the part of the blog where we pause to observe the glory of Zuccarello’s nickname: The Norwegian Hobbit Wizard. The diminutive winger put up 13 goals and 11 assists in 32 games with the Whale and should land on the first two lines for the Rangers Thursday.

MDZ’s Out

Matt Gilroy will go for the Blueshirts while Michael Del Zotto gets a respite to fight the flu. The 26-year-old Gilroy has played 20 games this season, contributing 3 assists and sporting a plus-5 rating. It will be his first game action since Dec. 11 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

A Helping Hand

Daniel Girardi’s been feeling awfully charitable this season, currently leading the Rangers with 16 assists. Girardi’s playmaking has been just one part of a more productive blue line that hasn’t really missed the offensive contributions of Del Zotto, who is still struggling to find the groove that garnered him so much attention last season. Marc Staal has likewise stepped up his offensive game with 15 points, including a Ranger blueline-best 6 goals.

I'll be heading down to D.C. for the holidays and won't be back until Monday night, so allowed me to part with a hearty Merry Christmas to all our readers. Catch you all next week.