Game Preview #43 - Leafs vs Rangers
The Toronto Maple Leafs (22-26-5) will get right back at it tonight following their loss in Buffalo last night as they host the Eastern Conference leading New York Rangers (27-10-4) at the Air Canada Centre. The Leafs have been one of the few teams that has had success against the Rangers this season going 2-0-0 thanks to a pair of 4-2 victories at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers will look to bounce back following a disappointing 3-0 loss Thursday night to the red-hot Ottawa Senators. New York has been consistently solid across the board and relied on their depth to propel them to an unbelievable first half. Considering they've played most of the season without Marc Staal (whom I think is one of the best defenseman in the league) is a credit to their organization.
The Leafs are coming off of a frustrating loss to the Sabres last night, and will look to once again use their speed to punish the Rangers. New York has had a hard time keeping up with the Leafs quicker forwards especially the dynamic duo of Phil Kessel (3 assists in two games vs NY this year) and Joffrey Lupul (2 goals vs NY this year). Jonas Gustavsson has outplayed his Sweedish counterpart Henrik Lundqvist in both games this season, but the word this morning is that Martin Biron will get the nod for the Rangers tonight. Gustavsson was the losing goalie last night, but after a rough opening five minutes really played well. The Leafs have yet to announce a starter, but considering he hasn't played since December 31 I think James Reimer will be back in action tonight.
Rookie Jake Gardiner has been a healthy scratch for the last three games. With the injured John Michael Liles still out of the lineup, the Leafs were desperately lacking a puck moving defenseman last night in Buffalo. Look for Keith Aulie to come out while Gardiner gets back in against a Rangers team that he's had some success against this season.
The Leafs will need to be on their toes tonight as the Rangers are a hungry and motivated team after having lost both contests this season. Having watched 24/7 and hearing coach John Tortorella roast his boys I imagine they'll be plenty motivated to avenge those early season defeats.
Lupul - Connolly - Kessel
Kulemin - Grabovski - Crabb
Kadri - Lombardi - MacArthur
Brown - Steckel - Boyce
Aulie - Phaneuf
Gunnarsson - Schenn
Franson - Komisarek
Wolski - Stepan - Gaborik
Prust - Richards - Callahan
Mitchell - Boyle - Hagelin
Rupp - Anisimov - Fedotenko
Girardi - MacDonagh
Staal - Del Zotto
Stralman - Bickel
Players to Watch
Leafs: Phil Kessel - As mentioned above Kessel has had some success against the Rangers this season. The Leafs' top scorer has failed to get a point in his last two games and the MSM vultures have begun to circle him. A win tonight will be a huge confidence boosting one for the blue and white and Kessel has emerged as a leader this season. Look for him to be at his attacking best tonight.
Rangers: Marian Gaborik - The enigmatic sniper sits one goal behind Kessel for second in the league with 23 goals. Gaborik's speed and shot are world class and he has been prolific against the Leafs in the past (five goals in one game last season). Look for Dion Phaneuf to be assigned the task of marking the sneaky Gaborik tonight.
Game Time: 7:00 at the Air Canada Centre. TV - CBC. Radio - AM640.