Game Day Thread: Leafs at Rangers, 7pm (Sportsnet)
The undefeated Toronto Maple Leafs (3-0)Â takeÂ a tour downÂ Broadway this eveningÂ en route toÂ faceÂ off against the New York Rangers (1-1) at historic Madison Square Gardens.Â
Coming off a narrow victory over theÂ much-heralded Pittsburgh Penguins, the Maple Leafs will look to keep the momentum going against a Rangers team that has had no difficultly keeping the lamp lit … at both ends of the ice.
The Maple Leafs and Rangers played each other onÂ fourÂ occasions last season, with the Rangers winning three of the four in convincing fashion. When all was said and done, the RangersÂ outscored the Leafs 18-7Â in the four game set.
It isÂ difficult toÂ look too closelyÂ at statistics onlyÂ aÂ coupleÂ games in, as the season isÂ not nearly toÂ a point at whichÂ one canÂ judge a team off its numerical production.Â That said,Â thereÂ areÂ some early trends which are worthy of attention:
The Rangers have had no difficulty putting the puck in the net, scoring 10 goals in their first 2 games (5 GF/Gm avg), on 61 shots (16.4Â SH%)
However, the Rangers have struggled defensively and in goal, allowing 9 goals against in their first two gamesÂ (4.50 GA/Gm) onÂ 68 shots (34/gm) for anÂ .868Â SV%.
Correction: the Rangers have allowed an empty netter, which raises their sv% to .881.
The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, are rolling along at a brisk 4 GF/Gm to 2 GA/Gm pace, boasting a 15.8 SH% andÂ .915 SV%.
Scoring firstÂ — and subsequently playing withÂ a leadÂ –Â has been an early key for both teams. The Rangers scored first in their victory overÂ the Sabres,Â andÂ found themselves trailing earlyÂ in their loss to the Islanders. The Leafs have scored first in each game they have played, winning all three.Â
Players to Watch
In one ofÂ theÂ early surprise performances of the season, Rangers’ rookie Derek Stepan stepped out of nowhere to record a hat trick in his first game (vs Buffalo). Although held off the scoreboard in the Rangers’ next match (vs NYI), any player with a hat trick under his belt certainlyÂ bears monitoring.
Brandon Dubinsky is off to a hot start for the Rangers, withÂ 3 goals andÂ 1Â assistÂ in 2 games, as is Artem Anisimov (1 goal,Â 2 assists).Â Marion Gaborik (2 assists) has yet to score his first goal of the season, but when healthy — as he is currently — he remains one of the top threats in the league and must be accounted for at all times.
Although Henrik Lundqvist hasn’t had the sort of start many had envisioned, a mere two games in is no cause for panic. However, he will need better defensive support if he is to find his rhythm.
Speaking of the Rangers’Â blueline woes, the Leafs’ top line of Kris Versteeg, Tyler Bozak, and Phil Kessel should have a muchÂ stronger gameÂ against a skilled, but not particularly physical, Rangers defensive unit.Â
WhileÂ few wouldÂ expect Leafs’ wingerÂ Clarke MacArthur to keep up his torrid pace (4 goals, 1Â assistÂ in 3 games),Â the Rangers’ early defensive troublesÂ will provide himÂ an excellentÂ chance to extend his scoring streak to four games.
Luke Schenn has beenÂ an effective force,Â leading all Maple Leafs’ defenders with a +3 rating and 10 hits. His pair of assists have put him in an earlyÂ tie for the points lead amongÂ Toronto blueliners.
Chris Drury returns to the Rangers’ lineup tonight after missing the opening two games with a broken finger,Â while Vaclav Prospal remains out with a knee injury. Erik ChristensenÂ will be a game-time decision after leavingÂ Monday’sÂ gameÂ with an apparent leg injury.Â
Maple Leafs’ enforcer Colton Orr will return after leaving the game against Pittsburgh early following a fight with Deryk Engelland. Brett LebdaÂ has recovered from injury and isÂ ready to make his Leafs’Â debut, but will have to wait as head coach Ron Wilson remains hesitant to tinker with a lineupÂ that has yet to lose a game.
Maple Leafs’Â Lineup
ThereÂ appears to beÂ little impetus to make any sort ofÂ change to what has been a winning formula thus far. J-S GiguereÂ is expected to getÂ the start in net, his third of the season.
(lineup viaÂ Jonas Siegel)