If Mats Zuccarello misses time, James Sheppard is a perfect fit against the Islanders or Capitals


James Sheppard (Bruce Bennet / Getty Images)

Today we will hopefully learn the status of Mats Zuccarello‘s availability for round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If for whatever reason Mats is unable to compete, trade deadline acquisition James Sheppard would fit right in.

The Islanders and Capitals face off in Game 7 at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. tonight. This series has been grueling and hard fought with a dash of nastiness all around. Both teams have gone at it hit for hit and shot for shot. It culminated in a melee at the end of Game 6 in Nassau and is expected to continue tonight.

[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L7ynW4fC0NI”]

[su_quote cite=”Jack Capuano via Washington Post” url=”https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/dc-sports-bog/wp/2015/04/25/mayhem-breaks-out-at-the-end-of-game-6-of-capitals-islanders-series/”]“Seriously. It’s been a physical series. I’ve watched other hockey, other series, and this one here, there’s no question, the bodies that are flying around, and the scrums in front of the goaltenders, how the game is being played. Everybody’s being hard on their best players, which they should on both sides. They let em play.” NYI Coach, Jack Capuano via Washington Post[/su_quote]

So far both teams have amassed 128 Penalty Minutes (NYI 83, WSH 45). Cal Clutterbuck leads the Islanders with 26 and Matt Martin is second with 12. For Washington, Tom Wilson has 9 PIM’s and is their go to tough guy along with Jason Chimera. In contrast the Rangers had 30 PIM’s while they combined with the Penguins for a total of 76.

Should Zucc be unable to go, Sheppard would line up with Dominic Moore and Tanner Glass to form a solid crash and bang 4th line. Jesper Fast would move up with Carl Hagelin and Kevin Hayes leaving Martin St. Louis to stay on the top line with Derick Brassard and Rick Nash.

A slightly dazed Zuccarello being helped by Nash (r) - SN

A slightly dazed Zuccarello being helped by Nash (r) – SN

Either opponent would be right in Sheppard’s wheelhouse as he plays an in your face physical style. Don’t get me wrong, both the Islanders and Capitals have offensive talent but past their first lines they lean to physical hockey. These two squads are big and are at the top of the league for average height and weight, so they play to this strength.

If Sheppard gets into the lineup, it would bring out the best in him as it did last year when the San Jose Sharks played a grueling 7 game series against the L.A. Kings. In that series Sheppard scored 2 goals and notched 6 points while averaging 12:19 of ice time. More important than the offense was his physical style of play which upset the Kings early in that series.

Even if Zuccarello is able to play, it may make sense to find a way to get Sheppard into the lineup against the likes of Matt Martin of Cal Clutterbuck if it’s the Islanders or Tom Wilson if the Capitals advance. We’ve seen Martin and Clutterbuck run around enough during the regular season to know they will once again continue even harder in the playoffs.

[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DvSnnWwAUk”]

Sheppard has proven that he will answer the bell if he feels that the opposition is taking liberties. The only question is, does Alain Vigneault trust him enough to put him out there if he has options? Tanner Glass is a physical player but adheres to AV’s “whistle to whistle” aka: turn the other cheek philosophy. Should Sheppard get in there and put the Rangers down a man just to try and get at someone, he will surely be benched going forward.

Still, it is hard to ignore that he provides the size and grit required in a series with either the Isles or Caps. Regardless, come game 1 the coach will have an interesting decision to make.

Anthony Scultore has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL since 2014. His work also appears at... More about Anthony Scultore

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