Game Preview #27 - Rangers vs Leafs
As the rain and gloom has fallen around the Toronto Maple Leaf (14-10-2) at this moment tonight's game against the New York Rangers (15-5-3) could not have come at a better time. This is the proverbial opportunity knocking for the blue and white tonight. Two tough, hard fought losses against a superior Boston Bruins team has apparently stolen all of the wind from the Leafs' sail. However, let's look at it another way. Had the Leafs defeated the Bruins and entered New York state and laid an egg against both the Rangers tonight, and the Devils tomorrow night what would the excuse most likely have been? People would have claimed that the Leafs were too confident, and read too many of their press clippings. Well, tonight they have a chance to go into New York and defeat a hot Rangers team. Take that frustration that has built up over those two Bruins losses and punish the Rangers tonight and Devils tomorrow night.
It is obviously though much easier said than done. The Rangers may be just as hot as the Bruins at the moment. Having gone 8-2-0 in their last ten games, the Rangers have emerged as a dominant force in the East. Their last home loss was a 4-2 defeat on October 27 at the hands of these same Leafs. Toronto will need to shut down the Rangers top two lines which have paced them through this winning run. The Leafs will hope to get lucky again as Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist laid a complete egg the last time these teams met. Lundqvist though has been strong so far this season, and the Leafs will need to get plenty of traffic to the net against King Henrik.
Toronto will start Jonas Gustavsson tonight as James Reimer is expected to start against the Devils tomorrow. Gustavsson was strong in that 4-2 Leafs victory. He'll need to keep his composure as the Rangers love to crash the crease, led by captain Ryan Callahan. Nikolai Kulemin has not scored since October 22 and at the moment sits at only two goals on the season. Toronto will need some balanced offense tonight to combat the underrated Rangers blueline. Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul (like most Leafs) were shut down by the Bruins the last two games. Look for them to lead the charge tonight. Rookie Jake Gardiner has emerged as the Leafs leader in icetime the last handful of games, his skill set are key to beating the Rangers hard forechecking system.
Lupul - Bozak - Kessel
Frattin - Connolly - MacArthur
Kulemin - Grabovski - Crabb
Dupuis - Colborne - Steckel
Gunnarsson - Phaneuf
Gardiner - Schenn
Liles - Franson
Callahan - Richards - Fedotenko
Gaborik - Stepan - Anisimov
Avery - Dubinsky - Prust
Mitchell - Boyle - Hagelin
McDonagh - Girardi
Del Zotto - Sauer
Woywitka - Eminger
Players to Watch
Leafs: Dion Phaneuf - The Leafs captain must set the tone on the night, and right the blue and white ship before it goes too much off course. Phaneuf will need to neutralize the hard charging Callahan, while providing some offense from the point. Make no mistake, tonight's game is a statement moment for this Leafs squad.
Rangers: Marian Gaborik - Has developed into somewhat of a Leaf killer. Had a big five goal performance versus the buds last season, and with 12 goals so far this season Gaborik has become a factor once again in the big apple. If Gaborik gets some bounces tonight the Leafs will be in trouble.
Game Time: 7:00 at Madison Square Garden. TV - LeafsTV. Radio - AM640.