Hockey is back at the Garden. (Photo by Pat Leonard/NY Daily News)

Pre-Game: A Sort Of Homecoming - Leafs vs. Rangers


To borrow a song title from the Irish rock legends U2, tonight’s long-awaited home opener for the New York Rangers is more than a homecoming for the team and its fans; it’s a new beginning.

Phase 1 of 3 of the new MSG renovations is complete, giving the World’s Most Famous Arena more than just a fresh coat of paint; its been given a new identity. Speaking to that, the Rangers could use their old identity of being the “Black and Blue shirts” once again, symbolizing the never-quit, work-harder-than-your-opponent, grind-it-out mantra that defined the team a year ago. Tonight’s rebirth of Madison Square Garden would be the best time to get back to that identity.

Tonight’s matchup features the Toronto Maple Leafs (5-2-1 11 points), who have stormed out of the gate to lead the Northeast Division, but have lost two out of their last 3 games. Leafs leading scorer Phil Kessel (9g, 6a 15 points) is off to a hot start and leads all of the NHL in points, besting Canucks forward Daniel Sedin (4g, 8a 12 points) by 3 points. Kessel’s 9 goals are also the most in the NHL.

Join me after the jump to get the full pre-game report for tonight’s game.

BROADCAST INFORMATION:
TV: MSG Network 7:00PM

Staring the year on a brutal, seven-game road trip spanning three countries is not the most ideal situation for any team in any sport. However, when you come away with eight points and a record of 3-2-2, you wouldn’t take it back, either. Head coach John Tortorella has no intentions of apologizing anytime soon as Howie Kussoy of the NY Post found out:

“We end up with eight points. I’m not gonna apologize to anyone for how we get the eight points,” coach John Tortorella said. “We have struggled in certain areas of our game, as a lot of teams do in October. I’m not concerned about that at all.”

Securing wins when your team isn’t playing at its best is a mark of a good team. Although, it’s still too early to tell how good of a team the Rangers will ultimately be. It will all depend on how their offense clicks, as their goaltending and strong defensive play are known commodities.

Besides playing in their home building for the first time this season and in front of, arguably, the best fans in hockey, the Rangers will receive a tremendous boost on defense as Michael Sauer makes his return to the lineup after missing five games with a shoulder injury. Howie Kussoy has more from the coach:

“He came on strong last year,” Tortorella said. “He was a surprise and turned into one of our top four [defensemen], so when you get one of your top four back, it certainly helps.”

Tonight’s game will be the first on MSG ice for new captain Ryan Callahan, who’s had a rough start to his season [2g, 0a, +/- of 0] but knows, as the season rolls along, things will improve. Peter Botte of the NY Daily news spoke to the captain:

“We feel like we can be better, we need to be better, but at the same time we’ve got to be happy with the result we had,” captain Ryan Callahan said. “Now, everybody is excited to be home. There’s no secret, it was a long trip.”

Mike Rupp sat out yesterday’s practice with a knee issue but will be a game-time decision as to whether or not he plays.

For the Leafs, young goalie James Reimer will miss his second straight game with a neck injury, or is it a concussion? Or isn’t it? James Mirtle of The Globe & Mail has some fascinating insight from Leafs coach Ron Wilson:

“Well the doctors haven’t said that to me,” Wilson said. “Last time I checked, I don’t have a medical degree and I don’t think The Monster does either. Until we’re told something like that, this is a day-to-day thing. He felt fine yesterday.

Regardless, the “Monster” Jonas Gustavsson will get the start in net. Injured forwards Tim Connoly and Tyler Bozak will return to the Leafs’ lineup.

Probable Lines

FOWARDS:

Fedotenko-Richards-Gaborik

Dubinsky-Stepan-Callahan

Wolski-Boyle-Prust

Christensen-Anisimov-Rupp/Newbury

DEFENSE:

McDonagh-Girardi

Del Zotto-Sauer

Eminger-Erixon

GOALIES:

Lundqvist

Biron

KEYS TO VICTORY:

  • HOME-ICE ADVANTAGE: It’s a common thing in hockey for a team to drop the first game home after a long road trip. However, this is a bit different than your average first game home. It’s the home opener, which means the building will be buzzing. The players need to make sure they don’t get too amped up, but make sure they channel the energy in their performance.
  • SLAY THE MONSTER: With Reimer sitting out, the Rangers must attack Gustavsson early and often. In four career games, Gustavsson is 1-3 with a 3.86 GAA and .882 sv %. The Rangers seemed to have gotten the memo against the Jets to shoot more and tonight’s game shouldn’t be any different.
  • CONTAIN KESSEL, PHANEUF: Besides Kessel leading the Leafs and NHL in points, Dion Phaneuf is enjoying a hot start of his own, leading the team in points for a defenseman with nine and is second in the NHL in points for a defenseman as well. Lundqvist and the defense will need to be sharp to make sure the Leafs two best players don’t beat them.
  • THE GREAT GABBY: Last season, the Rangers were 3-0-1 against the Leafs, including a 7-0 win in which Marian Gaborik had a four-goal game. A repeat performance would be greatly appreciated.
Opponent Blog: Editor-In-Leaf
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Tags: Dion Phaneuf James Reimer John Tortorella Jonas Gustavsson Michael Sauer Mike Rupp New York Rangers Phil Kessel Tim Connoly Toronto Maple Leafs Tyler Bozak