Maple Leafs-Rangers Preview
The New York Rangers have been impressive since losing to the NHL’s top team, and they have an opportunity to keep it going against one of the league’s worst.
The Toronto Maple Leafs visit Madison Square Garden on Friday night winless in their last four games, while the Rangers have at least a point from their last five.
Since a 3-0 loss in Montreal on Oct. 15, New York (6-2-2) has gone 3-0-2 with a 15-6 scoring advantage. The victories have all come by at least three goals with Sunday’s 4-1 win over Calgary beginning a three-game homestand. With four days off between the first two, the Rangers might have a better shot at honing in on the kind of completion Dan Girardi wants to see.
"Our record is really good," Girardi after the team played three games in four nights. "But at the same time, we know in here that maybe one or two games we played a 60-minute game really hard. I think you need to find a way to get that 60-minute game."
Girardi scored his first goal of the season while Oscar Lindberg got his fifth. The rookie center, who turned 24 Thursday, leads the Rangers in goals and points (seven) after appearing in one game last season.
"There’s no doubt he’s found a way to be at the right place at the right time to get us some timely goals," coach Alain Vigneault said of Lindberg, who evened the score at 1 in the second period. "That’s pretty impressive. That goal definitely got us going."
The Rangers were more in need of a defensive-zone presence last season against the Maple Leafs.
They dropped two of three in the series, and each game featured nine goals. The Maple Leafs had 15 of them, including six in the first game against Henrik Lundqvist before he was pulled late in the second period. Then-backup Cam Talbot played the rest of the series. Since the start of 2011-12, Lundqvist is 3-4-1 with a 3.50 goals-against average and .873 save percentage against Toronto.
He should be plenty rested this time around, having last played in Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss in Philadelphia. He stopped 46 of 48 shots and has a .949 save percentage over a 1-1-2 span.
Toronto (1-5-2) last played in Monday’s 4-3 home loss to Arizona, dropping it to 0-3-1 since a 6-3 win in Columbus on Oct. 16. That stands as the Maple Leafs’ only triumph, and they’re tied at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with the Blue Jackets at four points.
A struggling penalty kill has been the difference in consecutive regulation losses, allowing four goals in eight chances in games collectively decided by three goals. For the season, their 71.9 percent kill ranks near the bottom of the league, though the Rangers’ power play (16.0 percent) isn’t turning heads after finishing 21st with a 16.8 mark last season.
"The (penalty kill) has to be better," said Morgan Rielly, who scored for a second straight game along with James van Riemsdyk. "We have to continue to work at that and improve on that. That might’ve been the difference in the game."
Rielly also had two goals in his last game against the Rangers, while New York’s Mats Zuccarello matched him and has three in his last two versus the Maple Leafs.
After the struggling James Reimer played against the Coyotes, Jonathan Bernier figures to face New York. Bernier has been slightly better with a 3.02 GAA and .902 save percentage, but he’s 0-4-1. As a starter, he’s 2-1-2 with a 3.21 GAA and .918 GAA against the Rangers.