The Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers have hit rough patches after surging into the Olympic break, leaving both looking for answers as they try to strengthen their suddenly more precarious playoff positions.
The Rangers will try to find that pre-Sochi form following the stunning trade of Ryan Callahan, as they’ll seek a fourth consecutive win over the Maple Leafs on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Unable to come to an agreement on a contract extension, New York dealt Callahan, a 2014 second-round pick and a 2015 first-round pick to Tampa Bay for star forward Martin St. Louis on Wednesday, hours before the trade deadline in a swap of team captains.
Callahan had 11 goals and 14 assists this season, his eighth in New York after being drafted by the club in 2004.
St. Louis, 38, led the league with 60 points in the lockout-shortened 2013 season and has 29 goals and 32 assists in 2013-14. He’ll likely slide into Callahan’s right wing spot on the line centered by Brad Richards, who he teamed with to help lead the Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004.
St. Louis had been seeking a trade after initially being left off Canada’s Olympic roster by Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, who served as Canada’s executive director.
New York (33-26-3) defeated Chicago in its first game after the break Thursday, but it hasn’t been nearly as impressive since. The Rangers fell 4-2 at Philadelphia on Saturday and 6-3 to Boston the next day, appearing to have trouble against a pair of more physical opponents.
New York had allowed 12 goals in going 6-1-1 in its previous eight.
"It just hasn’t been a solid 60 (minutes) as it had been previous to the break … we gotta tighten up for sure," Richards said.
The Rangers lost despite outshooting the Flyers and Bruins. They held a 39-27 advantage over Boston and had 14 of the first 15 shots, but could only take a 1-0 lead in that span.
”Painful. Extremely painful,” goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. ”I thought we played pretty good. They worked hard, but their goals were unbelievable with the bounces they got – a couple of deflections and a post and in.”
Toronto (32-23-8) also suffered lapses in its defensive game its last time out, a 2-1 loss to Columbus on Monday that dropped the club to 0-1-2 since the Olympics. The Leafs, who went into the break with five wins in six games, were outshot 12-5 and outscored 2-0 in the second period.
"We didn’t play a full 60 minutes tonight and that’s on us," defenseman Cody Franson said. "The other two games could’ve gone either way.
"We were rolling pretty good there and feeling quite confident in what we were doing (before the Olympic break). When you’re rolling like that, sometimes it can be difficult to find that smoothness in how you were performing before.”
Toronto is in a battle for one of the three Atlantic Division playoff spots and is also leading a tight wild-card race.
"The three losses hurt because we had points available to us on the road,” coach Randy Carlyle said. "That’s the hard part, losing two overtime games on the road when we had one-goal leads in both games. That kind of kicks you a little bit, it doesn’t feel very good.”
New York, holding down the third spot in the Metropolitan Division, has had little trouble with Toronto of late, winning both matchups this season and six of the past seven. The Leafs may be looking for some revenge after being routed 7-1 at home by the Rangers in the most recent meeting Jan. 4.
Dominic Moore scored twice and New York held a 50-26 advantage in shots. The Rangers have outscored the Leafs 27-13 in the last seven in the series and 12-4 during the three consecutive victories.
New York forward Benoit Pouliot has three goals and seven assists in his last six games against Toronto, while teammate Carl Hagelin has recorded a goal and an assist in two of his last three in the series.