MAPLE LEAFS (18-13-8) at RANGERS (28-13-1)
7:00 pm (TSN4)
Tonight the Toronto Maple Leafs will visit the New York Rangers at the storied Madison Square Gardens. This marks each teams first game after enjoying a seven day layoff. Establishing an early lead and coming out strong within the first ten minutes will be two keys to a Maple Leafs win.
Both teams have played well over their past ten games with the Rangers going 7-3-0 and winners of their last two. Toronto is 7-2-1 over the same stretch and is coming off a loss to Montreal.
It is no secret that the Leafs defense is a work in progress. There has been steady improvement in their defensive game since the beginning of the season but the young Leafs roster could use some help on the blue line. This could be an issue as the Rangers are ranked first in the league in goals for.
The Rangers also rank third in the league on the power play. Too many times this season the Leafs have taken themselves out of games due to time spent in the sin bin. If Leaf players can stay away from unnecessary penalties and provide good support for Andersen, there is no reason for anything else but a win tonight.
Where the Leafs stand now is they trail the Boston Bruins by five points for a playoff spot but hold an incredible six games in hand. Ottawa is also in the mix. Despite losing to Montreal last Saturday, the Leafs still control their destiny. We have hit the halfway mark of the season and from here on in every game should and will be a must win playoff type schedule. This is the first time in a long time that optimism is abound at a Leaf playoff push.
Auston Matthews is on his way to the All-Star game as the Leafs representative. He is tied with fellow NHL rookie Patrick Laine with 21 goals scored on the season. Matthews has been able to accomplish this after going 13 games without a goal earlier this season.
The other Leaf garnering attention is winger Mitch Marner. He leads all rookies with 21 assists. Marner’s vision of the ice is elite. It is that vision and his speed that earned him penalty killing minutes against Montreal for the first time in his young NHL career. The kid excelled any expectations playing on the kill.
Look to see if coach Babcock employs the same strategy tonight. It is a surprising and intriguing finding that will only add to the Leafs skill set if the trend continues.
It is now safe to ask the question. Are the Leafs playoff bound?
What do you think Leafs Nation?
Discuss among yourselves.
Projected Line Combinations
Toronto Maple Leafs
Komarov — Kadri — Nylander
Hyman — Matthews — Brown
van Riemsdyk — Bozak — Marner
Martin — Gauthier — Soshnikov
Rielly — Zaitsev
Gardiner — Carrick
Hunwick — Polak
New York Rangers
Kreider — Stepan — Zuccarello
Miller — Hayes — Grabner
Vesey — Lindberg — Fast
Jensen — Hrivik — Pirri
McDonagh — Skjei
Girardi — Holden
Klein — Clendening