Leafs get back to business after bye week, start strongly with pair of first-period goals. Thanks to a league-mandated five-day break, Toronto was competing in its first game since last Saturday - and the Leafs showed no signs of rust at all: winger William Nylander beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist at 4:49 of the opening period for his ninth goal of the season, and winger James van Riemsdyk scored his 15th of the year with a power play marker with 2:32 remaining in the frame to give the Buds a 2-0 advantage after 20 minutes of play.
The Leafs were looking to atone for a sub-par showing in that Saturday game - a 5-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at Air Canada Centre - and they couldn't have asked for a better start Friday in a road contest against a skilled and swift Blueshirts squad.
Rangers get one back midway through second, but Brown restores Toronto's two-goal lead before second intermission. The Leafs have had issues with discipline at times this season and have needed to lean on their penalty killing unit to bail them out. Such was the case in the first two periods Friday, as Toronto was assessed five minor penalties through the first 40 minutes - including three minors in the second frame - but managed to prevent the Rangers from registering any power play goals. Still, the cumulative effect of playing down a man is virtually guaranteed to come back to bite any NHL team sooner or later, and the Buds surrendered their first goal of the game at 9:05 of the second on winger Chris Kreider's 17th of the year.
However, the Leafs answered back a little more than five minutes later when winger Connor Brown fired the puck at Lundqvist and it ricocheted off Blueshirts blueliner Ryan McDonagh and into the net for Brown's 10th of the season and a 3-1 Toronto lead at the 14:27 mark. That gave Toronto a cushion to begin the third, one they'd eventually increase thanks to their continued hot streak on the power play.
Carrick's power play goal late in the third gives Buds commanding lead, extends Toronto's prowess with man advantage. Defenceman Connor Carrick was one of the Toronto Marlies' key contributors on offence last season, and although he's had a more modest degree of production in this, his first full NHL season, the 22-year-old has amassed a pair of assists in his past four games - and he gave the Leafs a three-goal lead at 13:20 of the third with his second goal of the year.
Carrick's goal was Toronto's eighth power play goal in its past four games, and it took the air out of the arena. Granted, the Leafs' penalty killers had to be strong to put the power play in a position to matter, but the Buds' confidence with the man advantage is clear to anyone watching. And as we all know, the NHL is a league in which special teams can be the difference between winning and losing.
Marner posts pair of assists, continues asserting himself as an elite playmaker. Winger Mitch Marner had three assists in Saturday's loss to the Canadiens, and the rookie continued to rack up helpers Friday, adding two more (on goals from van Riemsdyk and Carrick) to give him a team-best 24 assists and vault him into a tie with van Riemsdyk for second on the squad in points, with 34.
The 19-year-old played 20:53 in the Montreal game, but his minutes fell to 14:55 against the Rangers. However, that was a result of the six power plays the Blueshirts enjoyed, and had nothing to do with Marner's play. He's turning heads just about every night - and we're not talking only about the opposition's defenders - and he's only beginning his NHL career.
Andersen back in fine form after rare off-night against Habs. Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen has been one of Toronto's most valuable players for most of the season, but the veteran didn't have his best game against Montreal. (In fairness, his teammates didn't, either.) But the 27-year-old bounced back Friday with a now-familiarly stellar showing, turning aside all but two of the Rangers' 36 shots, including 14 in the third period. Winger J.T. Miller managed to beat him for New York's second goal of the night with just 1:25 remaining in regulation time, but Andersen was superb for the grand majority of the game and again gave his team what they needed to pull out the win.
With newly-acquired backup Curtis McElhinney likely to start Toronto's Saturday night showdown against the Senators in Ottawa, Andersen will get a rest before returning to action for Tuesday's tilt against the Sabres in Buffalo. But he continues to deliver first-rate netminding and prove Leafs management was right to trade for his services this past summer.