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Richards makes MSG debut as Rangers host Leafs

by Dave Lozo /
MAPLE LEAFS (5-2-1) at RANGERS (3-2-2)


Season Series:
This is the first of four meetings. The Rangers went 3-0-1 against the Leafs last season, winning the last three meetings by a combined 11-1.

Big Story: The Rangers will become the 30th and final team to play a home game this year. They opened in Europe and headed out west for four games due to renovations taking place in Madison Square Garden. The Rangers have a new locker room and new facilities, and they'll finally get to put them to use. Brad Richards, the biggest free-agent signing, will play for the first time in front of the home fans.

Team Scope:

Maple Leafs: After starting the season 4-0-1, the Leafs have dropped two of three on the road. But heading into MSG, they'll be as healthy as they have been all season.

Tim Connolly (upper body) will mostly likely make his Leafs debut; James Reimer, out for a game after taking a shot to the head from the Canadiens' Brian Gionta, will be back; and Tyler Bozak will return after missing two games with a foot injury.

"There could be some chemistry issues, but those guys have taken care of business regardless of who their centerman is," coach Ron Wilson said of putting Connolly between Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel. "Timmy's very smart in the offensive zone. He's got a great shot, too. I think over time, Timmy will blend in easily with those guys."

Much like the Leafs, the Rangers are getting back a key player to the lineup. Defenseman Michael Sauer (shoulder) played in Stockholm but was out of the entire western trip that saw the Rangers win 3 of 4 and return home with 8 points.

"It puts some guys that we have slotted in areas that we didn't want to put them in back into areas that they can succeed in, or at least better try to succeed in," coach John Tortorella said of getting Sauer back. "Michael came on strong last year. He was a surprise and turned into one of our top four. When you get one of your top four back, it certainly helps."

Who's Hot:
No one has been hotter than Kessel, who has 9 goals and 15 points in eight games. Defenseman Dion Phaneuf has had a hot offensive start as well with 2 goals and 7 assists. … The Rangers need scoring from people other than Richards and Marian Gaborik, and they got it from Ruslan Fedotenko against the Jets on Monday. He had a goal and an assist in the 2-1 win and has 5 points in seven games.

Injury Report: As the Leafs get back to full health, the Rangers will once again be without No. 1 defenseman Marc Staal (concussion). Michael Rupp (knee) didn't practice Wednesday and could miss Thursday's game.

Stat Pack:
Gaborik played in just two of the four games vs. Toronto last year, but he had 4 goals and 1 assist in that 7-0 victory in January. Reimer was recalled by Toronto four days later and eventually took over the No. 1 job.

Puck Drop:
"You can always look back at games and say there was an opportunity to win, but there were some games where we stole points as well. All in all, with the circumstances of everything, I think we're pretty happy where we are. We did a good job of fighting through the adversities of being away from home and the toll it takes mentally and physically." -- Brandon Dubinsky, on the team going 3-2-2 to start the season

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