In their final match of the campaign with the New York Rangers, the Leafs will be aiming to even up the season series (1-2-0 against NYR thus far) and end a two-game losing streak. Â Mike Brown will serve the second game of his suspension. Â Kris Versteeg will return from a minor ailment in a lineup change that will immediately infuse offense and change the dynamic of the Toronto powerplay.
The Matchup Stats
The Rangers won their recent trade with Phoenix almost purely based on their ejection of Michal Rozsival’s ridiculous $5 million cap hit. Â Yet the return they received in the form of Wojtek Wolski could make this trade an absolute steal. Â Wolski, who briefly attended Northern Secondary School in Toronto, is what the MSM likes to call an “enigmatic talent”. Â ”Enigmatic” is essentially an indication that he has the skill to be a 70 point player in the NHL, but the mental fortitude and dedication is variable. Â Wolski is thus a streaky player, who blew his chance with two NHL clubs (Colorado, Phoenix) in nearly ideal situations for an up-and-coming player. Â Not surprisingly, Wolski is making an immediate and prolific impact with the Rangers, specifically on a dynamic line with Stepan and the Norwegian Hobbit (Mats Zuccarello). Â Speaking of streaks, Marian Gaborik has lost his groove in New York and has been unable to find the back of the net for 8 consecutive games. Â Unlike Wolski, Gaborik is an all-world talent when healthy and will surely break out in the near future.
The Rangers are one of those teams that no current Leaf has fared well against in recent years. Â Ironically,Â John Mitchell is the exception with a 1.00 PPG in his last 8 against New York. Â This is of course due to a few memorable games that the injured Mitchell has had against the Blueshirts, namely a 5-goal, third period explosion by the Leafs in a 5-2 win on Nov 1, 2008. Â Those were Mitchell’s first two NHL goals (he finished the night with 2 G, 1 A, +4). Â I sat second row, visitor’s blueline for that game and to this day believe that it will constitute the highlight of Mitchell’s NHL career. Â In more relevant statistics, no other Leafs player has topped 0.5 PPG against the Rags in recent years.Â Phil Kessel leads the way with 3 goals and 6 points in his last 12 games against the Rangers.
Jonas Gustavsson will need to rediscover the focus that contributed to his early season success. Â The Swedish netminder has held his own against New York in recent years, posting a 0.912 SV% in three games. Â Toronto will also need to adopt the “road warrior” mentality that underlies their hot road play of late. Â The coaching staff will surely be instructing their forwards to bear down in the faceoff circle, as the Leafs look to take advantage of the 28th ranked faceoff team. Â Important faceoff wins in the defensive zone will greatly contribute to Toronto’s penalty killing efforts against New York’s 22nd-best powerplay. Â The Leafs will also have to prepare for some physical punishment as the Rangers are the hardest hitting team in the league.
Ironically, today’s quote is with respect to the aforementioned “hitting champs” of the league, courtesy of Luke Schenn:
“Hits is kind of a funny stat. Sometimes it depends where youâ€™re playing and whoâ€™s keeping track.”
Brett Lebda sits.