Rangers @ Maple Leafs
Air Canada Centre, 7:00 p.m. Thursday
Rangers’ record: 1-2-1
Maple Leafs’ record: 4-0-1
Less than a week after letting the visiting Leafs slip away with the extra point during their home opener, the Rangers are already presented with an opportunity for revenge. Although the crowd at Air Canada Centre is sure to be fired up by their team’s early success, the Rangers will at least have an opportunity to regroup away from the pressure of the Garden, where the Blueshirts managed to scrape up only the second-fewest home wins in the NHL last season.
The Rangers need to prove that they can pull together some wins without the likes of Marian Gaborik, captain Chris Drury, and alternate captain Vinny Prospal. Although neither Drury nor Gaborik made a notable impact on the score sheet in the games they did play, the team undoubtedly feels the psychological effect of losing three key leaders. Ryan Callahan has continued to live up to the “A” on his chest by playing with his characteristic spark, but Marc Staal-- the newly named alternate captain in Prospal’s absence—seemed a little lost in Monday’s game against the Avalanche. Coach John Tortorella, however, has said that the decision to give Staal the “A” was unanimous among the coaching staff, and he hopes that it will push Staal to take on more of a leadership role with the team.
Tortorella will once again juggle line combinations in order to try to generate more offense for the Blueshirts. Although he didn’t seem too happy about it, Tortorella has announced that the team will not be calling anyone up from Hartford for the upcoming road trip to Toronto and Boston. Reports from today’s practice include the reuniting of center Derek Stepan with wingers Sean Avery and Ruslan Fedotenko, and the placement of Erik Christensen between Alex Frolov and Brandon Prust. Tortorella has made it clear that he is counting on Christensen to contribute more offensively during the absence of the team’s veterans, and hopefully Christensen can help Frolov to start putting up some numbers, too. Brandon Prust—arguably one of the Rangers’ most exciting players to watch thus far—will be playing alongside Christensen and Frolov, and is expected to “add a little grind to that line”, according to Tortorella.
Rookie defenseman Mike Sauer is in for tomorrow night, although it is unclear whether he will be replacing Matt Gilroy or Steve Eminger. Backup goaltender Martin Biron will also join the team on the road trip, but Tortorella has not disclosed whether he will be playing in Toronto or Boston.
The Maple Leafs are coming off of their first loss of the season, and they are still a hungry, motivated team. The puck simply did not bounce their way in the Leafs’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Islanders on Monday night; they scored two goals that were waved off after video review, and a controversial penalty call in overtime led to John Tavares’ eventual game winner. The Leafs are looking to regain their momentum, and the vulnerable Rangers are ripe for the picking.
While the Rangers primarily need to focus on putting together a concentrated, sixty-minute effort, there’s a high probability that the tension between these two teams will carry over from last week’s game. Mike Komisarek is bound to be still smarting from Sean Avery’s post-whistle slashes, and Colby Armstrong, the Leafs’ player who landed the hit that knocked Gaborik out of the lineup, will almost certainly be skating around with a target on his back. The Blueshirts, however, cannot afford to take any unnecessary penalties. The Rangers are looking for a fresh start in Toronto to jumpstart the season and prove to fans that the thriller against the Sabers on opening night wasn’t just a one-time fluke.