After a frustrating loss against the Florida Panthers on Monday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs look to return to winning ways tonight in New York against a Rangers team that is barely hanging on in the Eastern Conference playoff conversation (7:30 p.m. ET, Sportsnet).
Head coach Sheldon Keefe hit the nail on the head when asked about his team’s effort on Monday night and how frustrating the result was:
I thought we played a really good game. I think if we play that type of game 100 times, we probably win 99 of them or something in that neighbourhood. You don’t get the points and that hurts.
Maybe at 3-3 Matthews, instead of hitting the post, goes post and in and you win the game — we’d be sitting here talking about how good of a defensive game it was all the way through and how we gave up zero shots at 5-on-5 from inside our own zone in the second period
Keefe is responding to the (probably unjustified) level of panic in the media and fan base after the Florida loss, and he is right to point out the quality of the team’s overall performance, but his group’s resiliency is about to be tested once again here. In the hard-luck loss to Florida, the bad breaks kept on coming with another key injury to starter Frederik Andersen, while the competition around the Leafs in the standings isn’t showing many signs of slowing down.
Goaltending will very much be in the spotlight tonight for both teams. The Leafs and Rangers have been linked regarding a potential Alexandar Georgiev trade all season, but the Leafs won’t get a look at the 23-year-old tonight — or his veteran backup, for that matter. Henrik Lundqvist started on Monday night against Dallas but was pulled after giving up four goals on 15 shots through 40 minutes, and Georgiev played most of the third before leaving the ice for the extra skater. Yesterday, the Rangers recalled their star prospect, Igor Shesterkin, who will get the start tonight.
Shesterkin has started four games this season — his first four in the NHL — and has gone 3-1-0 while making 127 saves on 137 shots (.927). Pair that with a 17-4-3 record and .934 save percentage in the AHL this year — backstopping the Hartford Wolf Pack to first place in their division — and it’s no wonder why the Rangers are attempting to keep the balancing act of keeping three NHL goaltenders happy for now as they drive a hard bargain on Georgiev in the trade market.
Thankfully for Toronto, Frederik Andersen’s injury appears to be neck-related and not head-related. Sheldon Keefe also described Andersen as “day-to-day.” The outlook on Michael Hutchinson isn’t as rosy as it was a few days ago after he let in three goals on 13 shots in relief of Andersen on Monday, but despite his struggles entering games in relief, he has put together four wins in a row in the games he’s started — vs. DET, NJD, NYI, and OTT with a .948 save percentage in those starts.
The Leafs will need to show the resiliency tonight to shake off the most recent Florida loss and start a new winning streak; the prior loss to the Panthers was an 8-4 disaster that Keefe mentioned hung over the team for some time after, while Monday’s loss stung for different reasons. That ability to stick with what was largely a dominant 5v5 effort over 200 feet, despite the bad result and the loss of their starter in net, is going to be tested tonight.
Game Day Quotes
Rangers head coach David Quinn on the three-goalie rotation:
It’s getting to the point where someone is going to have to play real well and the guy who plays real well will play. We’re kind of sorting this out with three, but it’s not an easy situation, as we’ve all talked about it. We are going to make the best of it. These guys have handled it real well. All three deserve a lot of credit. It’s not easy on anybody, but they’ve done a real good job of managing it.
Michael Hutchinson on building off of his recent good starts:
It’s your mental approach going into games and being relaxed, clear headed, and just letting the game come to me. That’s the biggest thing. I will approach it the same way I have the last few games and hopefully, everything works out.
Sheldon Keefe on the team’s injuries continuing unabated:
I don’t spend any time at all focusing on that. Every team in the league is dealing with injuries — we played a team last time that was without their best player. Every team is going through it across the league, so that’s not something I spend any time on. We just coach the guys that we have that’s what we’ll continue to do here.
Keefe on Hutchinson’s struggles coming in cold in relief:
We’re focused on him as a starter tonight and he has been excellent in that regard. There are lots of reasons for us to be confident there. We’ve just got to go out and play for him.
Keefe on John Tavares’ play of late (one point in his last five):
He has been very consistent every single day with his approach. The work that he puts in practices to begin with just kind of sets the tone for our entire team about what is required and what is expected and acceptable. That is the first thing. That is what you want to get out of your captain and leader. He has been very consistent with how he works on the ice. He’d have like to have had more offensive production, but he is still producing at a very high level for us. We’ve given him different linemates and he has handled that very well. Anybody who has played with him has benefited from his experience, leadership, and how he performs on the ice.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #47 Pierre Engvall – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#42 Trevor Moore – #19 Jason Spezza – #41 Dmytro Timashov
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#23 Travis Dermott – #94 Tyson Barrie
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #83 Cody Ceci
#30 Michael Hutchinson (starter)
#50 Kasimir Kaskisuo
Scratched: Frederik Gauthier, Martin Marincin
Injured: Ilya Mikheyev, Morgan Rielly, Frederik Andersen
New York Rangers Projected Lines
#33 Phil Di Giuseppe – #93 Mika Zibanejad – #89 Pavel Buchnevich
#10 Artemi Panarin – #16 Ryan Strome – #17 Jesper Fast
#21 Brett Howden – #72 Filip Chytil – #24 Kaapo Kakko
#48 Brendan Lemieux – #14 Greg McKegg – #42 Brendan Smith
#76 Brady Skjei – #23 Adam Fox
#55 Ryan Lindgren – #8 Jacob Trouba
#18 Marc Staal – #77 Anthony DeAngelo
#31 Igor Shesterkin (starter)
#30 Henrik Lundqvist
Injured: Chris Kreider