Tonight, the Maple Leafs look to tie a franchise record for consecutive games with at least a point when they visit the 2021-22 Eastern Conference finalist New York Rangers, who are underperforming relative to expectations so far this season but are heating up as of late with four consecutive victories (7 p.m. EST, TSN4).
After allowing the second-fewest goals of any team in the NHL to go along with a top-five power play last season, the 15-10-5 Rangers (fifth in the Metro) are hovering around the middle of the pack in a lot of the major team statistics this season: goals against (10th), goals for (19th), power play (16th), penalty kill (14th), expected goals percentage (15th), shot attempt percentage (10th).
One obvious factor in their goals-against supremacy cooling off is Vezina-winner Igor Shesterkin going from the otherworldly .935 save percentage he was producing last season to the still-good-but-more-human .916 he’s posted so far this season. With veteran backup Jaroslav Halak struggling to start the year (1-6-1, .888 save percentage), the Rangers have dropped from second to 17th in the NHL in 5v5 team save percentage — a category in which the Leafs currently lead the league a season after finishing all the way down at 27th.
That said, the Rangers have now won four straight games, including three victories over top opposition in Vegas, New Jersey, and Colorado, with Shesterkin picking up all four wins (.929 save percentage). Sheldon Keefe suggested yesterday that the NYR rank among the best teams when it comes to time spent in the offensive zone (perhaps referencing the less-publicly-available statistics like o-zone puck-possession time there).
For the Leafs, nothing will change about their lineup from Tuesday’s 7-0 win over Anaheim — a game in which the Leafs received contributions from six different goal scorers and every skater was a plus-one or better — with the exception of Matt Murray rotating back into the net.
Murray won his last start against Calgary on Saturday, but it was actually his worst game in terms of save percentage (four goals on 26 shots, .846 SV%) during his 7-0-2 run since returning from injury. It’s not a “bounce-back” game for Matt Murray per se, but with Ilya Samsonov stringing together shutouts right now, the healthy competition is alive and well in the Leafs net.
Head to Head: Leafs vs. Rangers
In the season-to-date statistics, the Maple Leafs hold the advantage over the Rangers in five out of five offensive categories and four out of five defensive categories.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the matchup challenges against the Rangers:
They’re a deep team with a strong power play and good goaltending with offense throughout the lineup both at forward and defense. There is a lot to handle there.
They are feeling really good right now as a team. All of those things have our attention, of course, but we are going to continue to focus on establishing the game we have been playing of late.
Keefe on the team’s opportunity to tie a franchise record with 16 consecutive games with at least a point:
We’ve done good things to put ourselves in a good spot. You don’t aspire to reach any sort of milestone or record or anything like that. You are just trying to give yourself a chance to win every game you play.
Fundamentally, as a coach, I believe we can win every game. No matter what is happening, that is my approach. That is how we go about it, no matter who is in or out of the lineup or what is happening in the schedule. You go in prepared to win every game.
Today is just another game for us to build on the things we have been doing.
Mitch Marner on the challenge presented by the Rangers:
They have a lot of skill on their whole team — through four lines and three defense pairings. A lot of active defensemen. For them, they move the puck well. They get to the net well. They’ve gotten a lot of goals off of traffic and rebounds around the net. For us, it is about blocking guys out around the net, trying to make it hard for them to get there, and taking away the second opportunities.
Justin Holl on the Rangers’ style of play:
They play a lot like we do. We have a lot of the same goals out there. They try to make it as difficult as possible on the opposition and have a lot of skilled players. It is going to be a big challenge for us, especially on the road.
In the offensive zone, they’re in the offensive zone trying to play heavily and establish as much o-zone time as possible, whereas some teams like to play on the rush a little bit more. They also like to make it hard on us when we are in the o-zone and push us as soon as possible to get out of the zone.
They sound like elementary tactics, but it is very important stuff that makes a big difference in the game.
Holl on whether he would’ve ever thought the team would go undefeated in regulation since Morgan Rielly went down hurt on Nov. 21:
I guess not, but it is funny how your expectations evolve over time. Once you start gaining that confidence as a team, you start to expect it a little bit more regardless of who is in the lineup.
Obviously, Mo is a huge part of our team. We have definitely missed him.
Marner on Pontus Holmberg’s emergence:
In that last game, he was unreal. He seemed like he was all over the ice, backtracking, stealing pucks, and in the offensive zone, stealing pucks as well and making plays. It was pretty fun to watch him really go and enjoy that moment. The bench was going nuts for him, to be honest.
It was cool to watch. He is pretty sneaky out there with his stick and his faceoffs, and he is always above his guy, it seems like. A lot of players don’t like that feeling of always being touched. He has done a great job of it. It has been fun to watch.
Keefe on Conor Timmins’ contributions through four games and where he can improve going forward:
He plays with his head up. He is looking to make a play and looking to find a stick to get it to, whether it is to pass it on breakouts or regroups and move it up the ice.
If you look at the play he made to Mitch the other night in the offensive zone, a lot of defensemen are going to lower their head and pound it toward the net. He gets his head up, surveys the ice, finds a stick, and Mitch does the rest there.
I like that part of it. His head is up and he is making plays. He has defended well. He has good size, a good stick, and a body that can get in the way.
To me, it is just about more game reps and experience playing in the league. He has had a lot of disruptions over his short career here. We are trying to get him as involved as we can over this stretch while we are dealing with our own injuries.
He has done well. We want to continue to give him opportunities to take it to another level and add layers to his game.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#62 Denis Malgin – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #64 David Kämpf – #47 Pierre Engvall
#12 Zach Aston-Reese – #29 Pontus Holmberg – #28 Joey Anderson
#55 Mark Giordano – #3 Justin Holl
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#78 TJ Brodie – #25 Conor Timmins
Starter: #30 Matt Murray
#35 Ilya Samsonov
Extras: Wayne Simmonds
Injured: Nick Robertson, Calle Järnkrok, Jordie Benn, Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, Victor Mete
New York Rangers Projected Lines
#10 Artemi Panarin – #93 Mika Zibanejad – #21 Barclay Goodrow
#13 Alexis Lafreniere – #72 Filip Chytil – #24 Kaapo Kakko
#20 Chris Kreider – #16 Vincent Trocheck – #26 Jimmy Vesey
#91 Sammy Blais – #76 Jonny Brodzinski – #15 Julien Gauthier
#55 Ryan Lindgren – #23 Adam Fox
#79 K’Andre Miller – #45 Braden Schneider
#25 Libor Hajek – #8 Jacob Trouba
Starter: #31 Igor Shesterkin
#41 Jaroslav Halak