Leafs get chance to pay back Rangers
Saturday, 10.17.2009 / 7:00 PM
RANGERS (6-1-0) at MAPLE LEAFS (0-5-1)
New York is off to a convincing 1-0-0 start, using a four-goal third period to turn a close game into a 7-2 rout of Toronto on Monday at Madison Square Garden. Sean Avery
and Dan Girardi
each scored twice.
With a disappointing start to the season, the pressure is already starting to mount for the winless Maple Leafs. Toronto will have a tall order if it's to get off the schneid on Saturday -- the Rangers are rolling into the ACC on the heels of a six-game winning streak.
What hasn't been going right for the Blueshirts? New York is tied for the top record in the NHL, leading the League in goals and winning its last six games. The only blemish on the Rangers' slate so far is a 3-2 loss to defending-champion Pittsburgh on opening night. Offseason acquisitions Marian Gaborik
and Vinny Prospal are tied for the team lead in points with 10, while Ales Kotalik and rookie defenseman Michael Del Zotto
aren't far behind.
Accompanying New York's powerful offense, which is outscoring opponents by a 2-to-1 margin, is the typical strong play of Henrik Lundqvist
, who is sporting a 2.35 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage while winning five of his six starts. Even backup Stephen Valiquette pitched a shutout in his lone start this season. Things will get tougher on Monday, when the Sharks come to the Garden, but for now, the Rangers will look for this matchup against the reeling Leafs to keep them riding high.
For a proud franchise with 13 Stanley Cups to its credit, things certainly haven't gone as expected in the early going for the Leafs. After dropping the season opener to Montreal in overtime, Toronto has gone on to lose its next five games. The past week has been particularly brutal, as the Leafs have lost three games by a combined score of 16-5. Toronto is the only team in the League with less than two points on the season, while starting netminder Vesa Toskala, who is going to miss Saturday's start with a knee injury, has an unseemly 5.56 GAA to go with his .812 save percentage
While the Leafs were not expected to compete for a 14th championship this season, GM Brian Burke was certainly expecting a better start from his retooled roster. Toronto did get some good news on Thursday when big ticket acquisition Phil Kessel
took part in practice for the first time this year, but his debut is still not expected until mid-November. Saturday's game against the Rangers will be the Leafs' last for a week, until they open up a five-game road trip. It's a safe bet they won't want to stew over a winless record for seven days without a chance to change it.
Perhaps the only bright spot for Toronto might be the play of left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky, who has three goals in six games and leads the team with a plus-4. Girardi is currently on a three-game point streak for New York, including that two-goal performance against the Leafs on Monday.
The Leafs may try to get physical with the Rangers if they don't have to answer to Donald Brashear on Saturday. The bruiser is questionable with body soreness. Toronto's Joey MacDonald will likely get the start in net, as Jonas Gustavsson
is on injured reserve and Vesa Toskala is expected to miss the next 1-2 weeks with a knee injury.
Looking for a late goal to lift you to a win? Look no further than New York's Gaborik. In his first year with the Rangers the electric winger has scored six goals in the first seven games, all of which have come in the third period.
To say these two teams are headed in opposite directions is an understatement, but while the Rangers will likely be able to manage if they take their first loss in two weeks, the Leafs may have a desperate air about them come Saturday. Heads could start to roll if Toronto doesn't end its season-opening skid soon, and with a week off before the Leafs take the ice again, they won't want to spend the respite with a bad taste in their mouths.
-- David Kalan, NHL.com