MAPLE LEAFS (18-16-4) at RANGERS (17-18-2)
TV: SNET-O, MSG 2
Last 10: Toronto 4-5-1; New York 3-5-2
For the first time this season, the Leafs will play the New York Rangers. The home team in this series won every game last season. New York won two of three games in the Battle of the Blue and White.
Big story: This game will conclude the Rangers’ franchise record nine-game homestand, on which they have so far posted a 2-4-2 record. With two wins in its past eight games, Toronto has struggled, particularly on the road, where they have one win since Oct. 30. Both of these teams are in a struggle. Despite the Rangers’ recent struggles, they remain one of the few NHL clubs who still trail Toronto in the standings. The Rangers stand at 17-18-2 while Leafs are two games over .500 at 18-16-4, thanks in part to the game against Detroit Saturday night that needed overtime to determine a winner.
Maple Leafs: Concluding a three game homestand Saturday, Toronto fell behind 3-1 in the first to the Detroit Red Wings, who they will play again Jan. 1 in the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium. But the Maple Leafs stormed back in the second, getting goals from Dion Phaneuf and Joffrey Lupul to tie the game.
In that affair, Leafs allowed the Wings to take a 2-0 lead in the first period; New York is another one of those teams capable of jumping out to an early lead. Leafs were lucky enough to bounce back and force overtime, however as David Clarkson suggests, it’s a bad about to allow yourself to get into.
“When you allow a team with that much skill and talent to get ahead of you, it’s hard to battle back. But I think we showed something tonight by battling back,” Clarkson said. “We’ve got to be ready from the drop of the puck (tonight), be ready to play the way we know we can, the way we did in the second and third.”
That may or may not be a problem with NY, who has been getting into the habit of allowing the opposition to score the game’s first goal.
Rangers: New York gained some major momentum Sunday night against the Minnesota Wild. For the sixth straight game, they allowed the opposing team to score first, but Benoit Pouliot’s power-play goal with 3:52 left in the first tied the game 1-1 and the Rangers didn’t look back, scoring three more in a 4-1 win.
The win was keyed by a dominant second period in which they outshot Minnesota 17-5 and got goals from Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello, who both collected their eighth of the season.
Who’s hot: Toronto defenseman Cody Franson has three points in his past four games. … Carl Hagelin has three goals in four games for the Rangers. Pouliot has three goals and five points in his past six. Zuccarello has four points on his current three-game point streak.
Injury report: For Toronto, Dave Bolland (ankle surgery), Tyler Bozak (oblique), Colton Orr (elbow) and Trevor Smith(hand) are all out. … Defenseman Marc Staal (concussion) and right wing Ryan Callahan (knee) are out for the Rangers.
Next up: Following tonight’s showdown at the MSG, Leafs have the rest of the week off until Friday night when they host the Sabres at home.