Following up on a stellar 3-0 shutout win over the Predators, the Maple Maple Leafs will look to hold onto the title of the Eastern Conference’s hottest team as they take on the 10-3-3 New York Rangers, who are winners of four straight (7 p.m. EST, TSN4).

No other team that sits near the bottom of the league in shot-and-chance-based numbers has had the Rangers’ success in the standings. They are the only team in the NHL without a positive goal differential (45 for, 45 against) that currently occupies a top-three spot in their division.

There isn’t one statistical area where the Rangers stand out from the pack; they’ve just been winning plenty of games by one goal. They’ve also had an easy schedule, relatively speaking, with only one of their last eight wins coming against a team likely to make the playoffs (Florida).

Their goaltending has been solid — not particularly surprising given their talented young duo of Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin in net, but it’s the latter who has reached early heights that are beyond any pre-season expectation (12 games, eight wins, .930 save percentage). Add in Georgiev’s less spectacular performances, though, and the Rangers are near league average in save percentage, both at five-on-five and on special teams.

Speaking of special teams, the Rangers’ power play has been a consistent driver of their early-season results. While they’ve gone 0-for-5 in their last two games, the Rangers PP has been a steady force — this is only the second time they’ve gone two games without a man-advantage goal this season. The underlying numbers back their success up and then some, as they sit third in the league in xGoals/60 on the power play behind just the Oilers and the Leafs.

Now 17 games into the season, Nick Ritchie‘s acclimation to the Leafs lineup continues to be a work in progress. It was anything but a lack of luck out of the gate this year — he was the team’s worst regular forward without a doubt. Despite how awfully he started the season, he has looked better of late by both the numbers and the eye test.

To put it in perspective, Ritchie is bottom 30 in the NHL this season in xGAR/60 (all-situations xGoals model) out of nearly 700 skaters (>50 minutes TOI). Thankfully, he has seen his xGoals trend up significantly as of late. Prior to the Leafs 3-0 win over Philly, Ritchie was third last on the team — ahead of only Morgan Rielly and Justin Holl — with 48% xGoals at five-on-five, but he has improved to nearly 61% in his last four games.

Even more encouragingly, Ritchie has generated a few more of his own chances as of late, in case you were worried he was simply becoming a better or more fortunate passenger. He’s second on the team in individual xGoals/60 behind Auston Matthews in their last four games.

As mentioned, Igor Shesterkin will get the nod for New York as he looks to pick up his ninth win on the season. The 25-year-old is 8-2-2 on the season with a .930 SV%.

For the Leafs, Jack Campbell will continue his run of heavy usage with his 14th start tonight. In addition to the Leafs coaching staff managing his workload in practices, it also helps when the team plays as tidy of a third period as it did against Nashville — they only gave up three shots on goal in the first 17 minutes of the period while leading. Campbell is now 9-3-1 on the season with a sparkling .943 SV%.

Lastly, after missing practice yesterday with an undisclosed injury, Ondrej Kase (points in four consecutive) will be a game-time decision tonight. He did skate this morning, which is an encouraging sign. Kase has been a force lately on his line David Kampf and Pierre Engvall, so it might toss the Leafs out of their rhythm a little bit if he were to sit out.

Keefe confirmed that Kirill Semyonov will warm up in case Kase can’t go. If he can’t play, it’s either Alex Kerfoot or — more likely — Michael Bunting who would join Kampf on the third line, while Semyonov would join Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds.

Game Day Quotes

Sheldon Keefe on Auston Matthews slow-ish (relative to his usual standards) goal-scoring scoring pace and his overall play this season:

Crossbars and posts seem to be getting in his way a little bit. The chance generation has been there — he’s generating lots of shots, so I’m not concerned about it. Teams are going to continue to give him those kinds of looks. or he’s going to find those looks for himself and his linemates. Those are going to go in and go in a lot, so we’re not concerned about that.

I find that Auston’s found a real nice level of consistency in his game here on both sides of the puck. Last season, he was a dominant defensive player — we tend to forget about that when you lead the league in goals and the capabilities that he has offensively.

Keefe on managing Jack Campbell’s workload amidst the Petr Mrazek injury:

We’re conscious of it. He’s been really good — not just his play but daily. The way we’ve managed him in practice has helped that. Sometimes the team itself and the games themselves can help his workload. You look at the game in Nashville the other night, and we’re going into the third period protecting a one-goal lead — we gave up I think three shots in the first 17 minutes of the third. Those kinds of things go a long way as well in terms of helping the workload.

I think he’s managed it very well. He’s become very comfortable with his body and where he needs to go to manage it. Obviously, the medical team, now that he’s been here for over a season with us, has got a real good handle on him.

In terms of energy levels, he’s in a real good place. The injury stuff happens throughout a season for all players — you never know where they’re going to pop up. I think our team’s done a great job of helping Jack with that.

Keefe on managing Rasmus Sandin’s minutes:

He sat one game the other night in Buffalo. He’s a guy that comes in and consistently moves the puck really efficiently coming out of our zone and helps us on the offensive blueline. There is that, and that fact that he helps the second unit power play — he’s got some things that are pretty unique to him that are big for our group, so that helps his cause for sure.

The biggest thing is we still have to be mindful that it is a long season and it’s a lot for a young player that hasn’t played a lot in this league, hasn’t played a lot in pro hockey, and has a history of injuries. It’s part of why we gave him the night off in Buffalo the other night. We want to be smart about it.

I think he might have played 10 regular season games last year, nine in the NHL and one in the American League. Obviously, he’s already played well above that, so we want to be smart with both him and Liljegren.

Keefe on Travis Dermott’s progression this season:

I think Travis knows the situation he’s in. We’ve been very up front with him, both in our discussion and in the fact that he’s come out of the lineup. You’re looking to solidify yourself into one of those spots. The guys that are no doubters who are going to stay in everyday — that’s what the others are looking to do.

[Dermott] has been here a lot longer than the other guys and has yet to do that. When you look at the other night as an example, he did come in a do a good job for us. That needs to continue when he’s got some young guys that are really pushing him and really fighting for those spots. So, whether it’s Dermott or it’s Justin Holl, or one of our more established guys, you’ve got to be ready everyday because we do have seven [defensemen].

Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

#20 Nick Ritchie – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#47 Pierre Engvall – #64 David Kampf – #25 Ondrej Kase*
#58 Michael Bunting – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Wayne Simmonds

#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#8 Rasmus Sandin – #23 Travis Dermott

Starter: #36 Jack Campbell
#60 Joseph Woll

*Game-Time Decision

Extras: Kirill Semyonov*, Timothy Liljegren
: Ilya Mikheyev, Petr Mrazek

New York Rangers Projected Lines

#20 Chris Kreider – #93 Mika Zibanejad – #21 Barclay Goodrow
#10 Artemi Panarin – #16 Ryan Strome – #24 Kappo Kakko
#13 Alexis Lafrenier – #72 Filip Chytil – #15 Julien Gauthier
#29 Dryden Hunt – #17 Kevin Rooney – #75 Ryan Reaves

#55 Ryan Lindgren – #23 Adam Fox
#79 K’Andre Miller – #8 Jacob Trouba
#12 Patrick Nemeth – #27 Nils Lundkvist

Starter: #31 Igor Shesterkin
#40 Alexandar Georgiev

Injuries: Sammy Blais