Rangers Gameday Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs

The New York Rangers will face the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second time this season. The Rangers defeated the Maple Leafs 2-1 in overtime on Oct. 18. Mika Zibanejad had a goal and an assist for the Blueshirts, Artemi Panarin netted the winning goal in overtime and Igor Shesterkin saved 40 of the 41 shots he faced. Jack Campbell saved 21 of the 23 shots he encountered for the Maple Leafs. Both the Rangers and the Maple Leafs have good records currently as the former is 10-3-3 and in third place in the Metropolitan Division. The latter is 11-5-1 and in second place in the Atlantic Division. Let’s take a look at some storylines for both teams heading into tonight’s matchup.

Storylines: Toronto Maple Leafs (11-5-1)

Maple Leafs Have Been Stellar in November

After starting the season only winning two of their initial seven games, the Maple Leafs have been winners of nine of their last 10 games. They have only lost once in November and have shut out three of their opponents – the Vegas Golden Knights, Philadelphia Flyers and Nashville Predators, during the same month. Campbell’s total saves were 26 against the Golden Knights, 36 versus the Flyers, and 24 against the Predators. 

Related: Maple Leafs Daily Download

The Leafs rank in the top ten in the league in both shots for per game played (SF/GP) with 34.1, which is 6th in the NHL and are 9th in shots allowed per game played (SA/GP) with 30.2. Maintaining consistency in both categories provides a good balance of good offense and defense, which often translates to wins. The three shutouts thus far in November are credited to not only Campbell but the defense as well, led by Jake Muzzin, Morgan Rielly, and T.J. Brodie.

Special Teams Have Been a Factor In Leafs Success

The power play (PP) and penalty kill (PK) can indicate how good a team is or not. Ranking at the top of the league in both the power play and penalty kill can lead to success. The Leafs are 7th in the NHL with a power-play percentage (PP%) of 25.0% and a penalty kill percentage (PK%) of 87.5, ranking 3rd in the league.

Related: Rangers’ Top Producers Are All Veterans Despite Young Talent

During the eight games the Maple Leafs have played through November, the team has allowed one power-play goal against the Boston Bruins. The Leafs have demonstrated discipline among the team as there have been three games during November in which the organization has allowed only one power-play opportunity to the opposition – against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Calgary Flames and Predators. Maintaining composure will prevent the team from putting pressure on its defense and goaltending through having to kill penalties.

Top Players Lead the Offense

Leading the Leafs on offense are Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner and John Tavares. The four players are often contributing goals and/or assists on a game-by-game basis. Nylander’s stat line is 7-9-16, and he leads the team in total points. Tavares leads the Maple Leafs with eight goals and is tied for second on the team with 15 points. 

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Marner is the assists leader for the Leafs with 11 and has 15 points. Matthews has seven goals and seven assists in 14 games played for the Maple Leafs. The kind of talent the Leafs possess will be difficult for teams to play against if those four players remain healthy. 

Storylines: New York Rangers (10-3-3)

Kreider is a Scoring Machine

Chris Kreider has, without a doubt, been the face of the franchise through 16 games this season. The 30-year-old forward has 12 goals on the season and is second in the NHL with seven power-play goals (PPG). He notched the deciding goal during the shootout victory against the New Jersey Devils as well.

Kreider’s seven goals on the power play account for the nine the Rangers have totaled so far. While it would be beneficial for the team to have contributions from several players on the man advantage as the season progresses, why shouldn’t his linemates continue to give him scoring chances? It is not a question whether the Rangers longest-tenured player will score during a game, but when, with the way he has been playing. He is one of the top players at establishing his presence in front of the opposition’s net to contribute goals for the team and does not hesitate to establish his physicality, if necessary.

Kakko Demonstrates His Offensive Skills

The second overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft has been inconsistent in his offensive production as he has struggled to contribute chances this season. However, Kaapo Kakko tallied his first two points of the year against the Devils with a goal and assist. He also scored during the shootout to help get the win against one of the team’s rivals.

Kaapo Kakko Rangers Draft
Kaapo Kakko, New York Rangers, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers

Kakko followed up his good game with more offense against the Montreal Canadiens. He scored the initial goal to give the Blueshirts a 1-0 lead and appears to play well with Panarin and Ryan Strome. The young forward has had to deal with the expectations of being the second overall selection by a team who plays in the biggest media market in the country but has displayed the skill in back-to-back games that can make him another contributor to the talented core the Rangers possess.

Blais Out for Season With Torn ACL

Sammy Blais suffered a torn anterior crucial ligament (ACL) during the Rangers shootout win against the Devils last Sunday. He was injured during an encounter with Devils defenseman P.K. Subban near the boards. The veteran Devils defenseman has had previous incidents with clipping other players, such as in the preseason with Rangers forward Ryan Reaves, who missed time with an injury during the exhibition portion of the schedule after the encounter with Subban.

Blais’ recovery time is expected to be 6-8 months, and he will miss the remainder of the 2021-22 season. He had been on the Rangers’ top line with Kreider and Mika Zibanejad. The team may prefer to replace Blais within the organization first before considering a trade.

Related: Rangers Need Much More From Kakko and Lafreniere

The game between the Rangers and Maple Leafs will be interesting to watch as two of the original six franchises face off for the second time this season. Both teams have the talent on offense to make this a game worth watching and each franchise is one of the top organizations in their respective divisions. The franchises each have reliable goaltenders in Igor Shesterkin for the Blueshirts and Campbell for the Maple Leafs.

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