RANGERS at MAPLE LEAFS, 7 p.m.
MSG+, 1050 AM
Put aside those one-sided head-to-head records, the momentum-changing video review, that balance of rest and rust coming out of the Christmas break - at the end of the day, the Rangers' victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night boiled down to this straightforward statement from David Quinn:
"Some big performances by our top players."
The Rangers figure to need some repeat performances when they face a Maple Leafs team that has done nothing but win, in all kinds of ways, for two full weeks now.
The Rangers conclude their post-Christmas back-to-back on Saturday night in Toronto, set to battle the Maple Leafs for the second time in an eight-day span. The Blueshirts come in looking to bottle some momentum from Friday's 5-3 Madison Square Garden victory over Carolina, while stopping the Leafs from securing their seventh win in a row.
Saturday's game begins a stretch of four straight Canadian road games for the Blueshirts, though they will make a stop back home in between this one and their swing out West to visit Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. It matches their longest stretch of road games on their 2019-20 schedule.
And they'll have to hit the road without Brendan Lemieux, who suffered a fractured hand during Friday's victory. Lemieux had played in 35 of the Rangers' 37 games this season. The Rangers summoned Steven Fogarty from Hartford to get back to 13 healthy forwards on their roster.
The last time the Rangers played four in a row on the road, earlier this month in Las Vegas and California, Mika Zibanejad ran off five goals in the four games, and Artemi Panarin six, including his third career hat trick in the Dec. 12 win in San Jose. Between the two of them, they have combined for 21 goals and 36 points in 28 away games this season.
Those two were at it again on Friday night, this time on Garden ice, each chipping in three points to get the Rangers restarted with a win. Zibanejad's two goals in the game were of particular note because they came with man-advantages, on which the Rangers went 2-for-4 in what they hope was a launching pad for their power play. But Zibanejad also set up Chris Kreider for the final go-ahead goal and turned in nearly five of his 21 minutes on a penalty kill that was 5-for-5.
"He's such a special player, he's so underrated," Kreider was saying after the game. "He has chemistry with everyone; he makes everyone around him better."
Right now his chemistry is with Kreider, who has four goals and six points over the last five games. Kreider had a goal and one beautiful assist against the Canes on Friday night - his third multi-point game in the last seven - but perhaps the way he has been playing was better summed up by the penalty he drew on Joel Edmundson midway through the game, when he spun off the Carolina blueliner in open ice, shielded the puck as he drove the net and forced an in-tight save from James Reimer. Edmundson was whistled for slashing on the play, and you could take your pick as to which of the slashes was the guilty one.
"Kreids has continued to play really well," Quinn said.
And while the Rangers got a big performance too from Henrik Lundqvist, who made 39 saves to beat the Canes for the third time this year, Saturday's game figures to be Alexandar Georgiev's, given that it's the second of a back-to-back, and given what Georgiev put together in his most recent trip to Toronto, when he stopped 44 of 45 shots back on March 23 in the Rangers' 2-1 overtime win.
He is likely to be opposed by Frederik Andersen, the NHL leader in wins with 19, who was on the other side of that Georgiev gem last March, but who got one back when the Leafs took a 6-3 victory out of the Garden only eight days ago - a game that was tied entering the third period before the Leafs pulled away with two early goals within 47 seconds of each other.
That was victory No. 3 during the course of Toronto's current six-game winning streak, which has earned them far more standings points than style points. A total of 23 goals have been scored in the Leafs' last two games: The first was a coach's nightmare of an 8-6 home-ice win over Carolina to enter the Christmas break - the Leafs blew a 3-0 lead before scoring the final four goals of that game - and the second was Friday night's see-saw with the Devils that ended with an OT goal ostensibly belonging to William Nylander, but coming when New Jersey's Damon Severson slid a puck through his own goaltender.
Nylander had goals in both those games, and he and Mitch Marner each scored a pair at the Garden eight days ago. Auston Matthews saw his four-game point streak snapped against the Devils but still has five goals, nine points and a plus-8 over the last five games - with all five goals coming on home ice. The list goes on for a Leafs team that has been the NHL's highest-scoring team in December.
The victory in Newark moved the Maple Leafs to 12-4 since Sheldon Keefe replaced Mike Babcock behind the bench. But the game truly took an upsetting turn when rookie winger Ilya Mikheyev suffered a "significant laceration" on his wrist from a skate blade during the third period; Mikheyev remained behind in New Jersey, and on Saturday the team announced he had undergone surgery to repair an artery and tendons in his wrist. The 25-year-old is expected to make a full recovery but miss the next three months.
Adam Brooks could fill in on Saturday night and make his NHL debut.
10 Panarin - 16 Strome - 17 Fast
20 Kreider - 93 Zibanejad - 89 Buchnevich
21 Howden - 72 Chytil - 24 Kakko
42 Smith - 14 McKegg - 38 Haley
76 Skjei - 8 Trouba
55 Lindgren - 23 Fox
18 Staal - 77 DeAngelo
11 Hyman - 34 Matthews - 16 Marner
47 Engvall - 91 Tavares - 88 Nylander
41 Timashov - 15 Kerfoot - 24 Kapanen
77 Brooks - 33 Gauthier - 19 Spezza
44 Rielly - 94 Barrie
8 Muzzin - 3 Holl
23 Dermott - 83 Ceci
The Rangers' penalty kill has been the NHL's best over the past five weeks. Over the last 17 games, dating to Nov. 23, the Blueshirts have killed 53 of 60 penalties, a League-best 88.3 percent clip.
Saturday's game begins a stretch of four consecutive games in Canada, the Rangers' first such stretch since October of 2011.
Since Nov. 30, Mika Zibanejad and Mitch Marner each have 17 points, tied with three others, (Eichel, MacKinnon, Huberdeau) for most in the NHL.
Marc Staal will play his 862nd NHL game, moving him past Jean Ratelle for seventh-most in Rangers history. This will be his 36th career game against the Maple Leafs; the franchise leader in games played, Harry Howell (1,160), faced Toronto 222 times.
Toronto has scored 45 goals in 11 December games, by far the League's highest rate (4.09 per game).
Toronto is 12-4 under Sheldon Keefe, with 10 of the 12 wins coming by more than one goal.
The Leafs have allowed 54 third-period goals; only the Red Wings (55) have allowed more.
Frederik Andersen has earned the win in a League-leading 19 of the Leafs' 21 victories this season. If he lasts 23 minutes into Saturday's game he will surpass 20,000 minutes for his career.
Both teams are finishing a back-to-back. The Rangers are 3-3 in the second leg, Toronto is 2-6-1.
The Leafs have scored the game's first goal in 12 of 16 games under Keefe, after doing so in five of 23 games under Babcock.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Mississauga, Ontario, product Ryan Strome - the Rangers' second-leading scorer with 31 points - scored the OT winner in the Blueshirts' last visit to Toronto, on March 23. He capped the scoring in Friday's game - his 100th as a Ranger - and led the Blueshirts with six shots, not including an early one off the goalpost.
Zach Hyman has 3-4--7 during a three-game point streak. Five of Hyman's 59 career goals have come in just nine games against the Rangers, his most goals against any NHL opponent.