After traveling back home for Tuesday’s game, the Toronto Maple Leafs are back on the road again in Manhattan for the start of a weekend back-to-back against the 16-13-4 Rangers (7 p.m. ET, SNO).
After winning their first two games of the season and losing their next five, the Rangers have had an up and down season en route to a relatively mediocre record that has them seven points out of a wildcard playoff spot. However, they’ve managed not to lose more than two in a row since that initial skid — a streak that the Maple Leafs hope to break tonight.
During that rough start, the Rangers struggled to control shots and chances, especially so on the defensive end. That trend has improved since, but only slightly. They still sit last in the league in xGA/60 by a fair margin, while offensively they’ve managed a more middle-of-the-road 18th ranking.
Goaltending has been the biggest reason the Rangers have been able to stay afloat this year despite ghastly defensive numbers. Though veteran Henrik Lundqvist and 23-year-old Alexandar Georgiev have essentially split their starts this year (18 for Lundqvist and 15 for Georgiev), the youngster has had superior numbers. There’s a bit of recency bias in that considering Lundqvist has lost his last four starts (0-2-2), but Georgiev has still had the far superior numbers so far this season — he sits at 9-6-1 with a .920 save percentage and 6.6 GSAx (5th in NHL), while Lundqvist is at 7-7-3 with a .912 save percentage and a 4.9 GSAx (9th in NHL). The Rangers’ overall team save percentage is ninth in the NHL at .923.
The Leafs should be well aware of Georgiev’s abilities to steal a hockey game — the Leafs have fired over 45 shots at him in their last two meetings, both losses in which the Bulgarian stopped a combined 99 of 101 shots.
On Toronto’s side, Trevor Moore will remain out after a minor tweak on an existing injury kept him out against Buffalo. According to Sheldon Keefe, Moore is ready to go tonight but he’s opting to stick with the same lineup that won their last two games.
Sheldon Keefe on Trevor Moore: "We're going to see how things go here tonight, but obviously I'm excited to get Trevor back up and running here."
Basically, team is playing well as is just now. But Moore might get in tomorrow at home depending. https://t.co/WfDFRVenY1
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) December 20, 2019
The Rangers are in a tougher spot than the Leafs thanks to the Metropolitan Division’s continued dominance and have lost their last two games while giving up nine goals, so they should be desperate for some points. That said, the Leafs will likely have plenty of opportunities for offense tonight; if they play a patient and responsible game, there should be no issue generating enough scoring chances in the offensive third. In fact, for a Leafs team that is heating up offensively, the next two days present an exciting opportunity against two teams that are porous defensively. This is a real chance to sweep all four points and make up more ground in the Eastern Conference standings.
Game Day Quotes
Justin Holl on his pairing with Jake Muzzin:
I think we can bring different elements. He is really physical. I try to be physical when I can be, but I’m obviously not laying as big hits as Muzz is a lot of the time. I think we are both talking a lot. He is great on breakouts and great on retrievals and has good gaps. I really can’t say enough good things about him.
Holl on whether he’s playing a more physical game this season:
It’s just mentally remembering to put an emphasis on it. It’s more just being in the right position and using your body to should your attacker from a puck or maybe using your body to position yourself where the next guy can come in and grab it. It is just more trying to figure out the right play at the right time to be physical when possible.
Auston Matthews on where things have improved the most under Sheldon Keefe:
I think our offense has really come back to life — Just getting everybody kind of involved and engaged in the zone and just kind of letting our instincts take over and not really having anything set. We’re trying to keep a net presence, but we’re trying to have guys coming through the middle — not staying on the perimeter — all the time.
Matthews on his line building on the last game:
Just continuing to move our feet through all three zones and make sure we’re coming back and supporting each other and the D, and staying on the puck in the offensive zone — not just these one and dones, but staying on it and competing and getting pucks back and playing as much in the offensive zone as possible.
Sheldon Keefe on his team’s lack of penalties taken:
I think it is an interesting thing, right? I think it does coincide with the fact that we haven’t drawn a lot of penalties also. They’re low-event games we’ve played in terms of penalties. I think there is enough of a history there not just with the Leafs but all across hockey that that seems to correlate. If you take a lot, you seem to get a lot. If you don’t take a lot, you seem to not get very much.
I don’t know how much we can read into that, to be honest. We are the kind of team that isn’t going to instigate a lot of things and isn’t going to raise the emotion levels of the game too much. I think that is part of it. Also, we want to be a disciplined team. We can’t afford to take penalties. There has been a stretch of the season where that has been an issue here. We want to make sure that doesn’t come up again.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#88 William Nylander – #34 Auston Matthews – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#47 Pierre Engvall – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #65 Ilya Mikheyev
#41 Dmytro Timashov – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #19 Jason Spezza
#44 Morgan Rielly – #94 Tyson Barrie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#23 Travis Dermott – #83 Cody Ceci
#31 Frederik Andersen (starter)
#30 Michael Hutchinson
Scratched: Martin Marincin, Timothy Liljegren, Pontus Aberg
Injured: Andreas Johnsson, Trevor Moore
New York Rangers Projected Lines
#20 Chris Kreider – #93 Mika Zibanejad – #17 Jesper Fast
#10 Artemi Panarin – #16 Ryan Strome – #89 Pavel Buchnevich
#48 Brendan Lemieux – #72 Filip Chytil – #24 Kaapo Kakko
#14 Greg McKegg – #21 Brett Howden – #42 Brendan Smith
#76 Brady Skjei – #8 Jacob Trouba
#18 Marc Staal – #77 Anthony DeAngelo
#55 Ryan Lindgren – #23 Adam Fox
#40 Alexandar Georgiev (starter)
#30 Henrik Lundqvist