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'Hockey Night in Canada': 5 Storylines

Rangers try to slow down high-powered Maple Leafs; soaring Jets visit Canucks

by John Kreiser @jkreiser7713 / NHL.com Managing Editor

The New York Rangers have the unenviable task of trying to slow down one of the NHL's hottest offenses when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs in the opener of a "Hockey Night in Canada" doubleheader at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, SN, SN1, MSG, NHL.TV). The Maple Leafs are second in the NHL with 130 goals and have won their past two games by a combined score of 13-3.

In the second game, the Vancouver Canucks host the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Arena (10 p.m. ET; CBC, SN360, SNP, NHL.TV). The Jets are tied with the Calgary Flames for third in the NHL in scoring (126 goals), but the Canucks are 6-1-1 in their past eight games.

Here are 5 storylines to keep an eye on:

 

Maple Leafs offense in high gear

Toronto's offense is clicking on all cylinders. The one-two punch of Auston Matthews (19 goals in 21 games) and John Tavares (23 goals in 35 games) presents nightmarish matchup problems for most opponents, and that doesn't even take into account the headaches involved in trying to stop Mitchell Marner, who leads the Maple Leafs with 47 (10 goals, 37 assists) and Morgan Rielly, whose 40 points (11 goal, 29 assists) lead all NHL defensemen. Toronto (23-10-2) has five players with at least 10 goals and seven with at least 20 points, making it almost impossible for opponents to load up and try to stop one line.

Video: FLA@TOR: Matthews blasts one-timer by Luongo

 

Andersen continue to excel for Toronto

Though they score plenty of goals, the Maple Leafs also allow a lot of scoring chances. That's why goaltender Frederik Andersen continues to be arguably Toronto's most important player. Andersen (19-9-1) is second in the NHL in victories (Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights has 20) and has a 2.48 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage. But numbers tell only part of the story. The Maple Leafs got off to a slow start against the Florida Panthers on Thursday, but Andersen survived a couple of breakaways and denied other excellent scoring chances until the offense kicked in. The final score was 6-1, but it could have been a lot different without Andersen. He is the one player the Maple Leafs can't afford to lose for any length of time.

 

Rangers struggling on road

Not much was expected from the Rangers (15-13-5) this season; they're going through a rebuild under first-year coach David Quinn. New York has played very well at Madison Square Garden (11-4-3) but is 4-9-2 on the road, with all four wins coming in the shootout. Playing their last road game before the Christmas break against one of the NHL's highest-scoring teams won't be easy. Backup goalie Alexandar Georgiev has never faced the Maple Leafs, but starter Henrik Lundqvist is 15-11-5 against Toronto since entering the NHL in 2005, and his 2.96 GAA and .897 save percentage are his worst numbers against any Eastern Conference team. 

 

Jets flying high 

Winnipeg (23-10-2) has spent its first 35 games showing that its trip to the Western Conference Final last season was no fluke. The Jets lead the Central Division and have the best record in the West. Center Mark Scheifele leads Winnipeg with 48 points (21 goals, 27 assists), one more than forward Blake Wheeler (five goals, 42 assists). Patrik Laine is tops with 23 goals. Eight players have at least 20 points. Goalie Connor Hellebuyck is 16-9-1, with a 2.90 GAA and .909 save percentage, but the Jets have gotten a lift from backup Laurent Brossoit (7-1-1, 2.35 GAA, .930 save percentage). 

Video: TBL@WPG: Scheifele wins it in overtime for the Jets

 

Pettersson sparking Canucks

Vancouver's Elias Pettersson continues to run away from the pack in the rookie scoring race. The 20-year-old forward, taken by the Canucks No. 5 in the 2017 NHL Draft, leads all rookies in goals (17), points (36) and assists (19), and he's the only one averaging more than a point per game (1.13). His shooting percentage is 26.6 and he's been equally as impressive as a playmaker, leading the Canucks (17-17-4) in assists. Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat give the Canucks a trio of young forwards to build around in the post-Sedin era.

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