Pre-Game: Rangers Go For Six Straight Against Maple Leafs

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  (14-10-2, 30 points)     (15-5-3, 33 points)

Opponent Blog: Editor-In-Leaf

Winners of five in a row – and with the HBO 24/7 cameras rolling – the New York Rangers will be in the spotlight when they play the Toronto Maple Leafs in an Original Six Matchup. The Blueshirts’ only home regulation loss came at the hands of the Leafs on October 27th 4-2 in the MSG opener. However, Original Six matchups have been kind to the Rangers since the ’05-06 season – posting a record of 47-27-12 (106 pts) – including a 14-7-4 mark vs. Toronto over that span.

The Leafs have lost their last two games – both to the Boston Bruins – after having won three straight; and they have the NHL leader in points in Phil Kessel – who has 32, including a league-high 16 goals. Teammate Joffery Lupul is 2nd to Kessel in points with 30.

Join me after the jump for the full pre-game report. 

Injuries: Wojtek Wolski (sports hernia), Mike Rupp (knee), Marc Staal (concussion) are all OUT for tonight’s game. Anton Stralman is a healthy scratch.

PROJECTED LINES:

Artem Anisimov – Derek Stepan – Marian Gaborik
Ruslan Fedotenko – Brad Richards – Ryan Callahan
Carl Hagelin – Brian Boyle – John Mitchell
Sean Avery – Brandon Dubinsky – Brandon Prust

Ryan McDonagh – Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto – Michael Sauer
Jeff Woywitka – Steve Eminger

Henrik Lundqvist

KEYS TO VICTORY:

STOP KESSEL, LUPUL: Despite being 5th in the NHL in goals for (80), Toronto star Phil Kessel and breakout player Joffery Lupul account for 35% of those goal numbers combined. Neutralizing their offensive threat and making their other players beat you will give the Rangers the best chance.

MONSTER MASHERS: Jonas Gustavsson, not James Reimer, will be getting the start in net for the Leafs. The “Monster” put up a monster, 28-save effort in their first matchup on October 27; something the Rangers’ inability to score played a part in. But, that was 6 weeks ago and both teams have gone in different directions. Gustavsson, in his career, has sub-par numbers against the Rangers (2-3, 3.48 GAA .892 sv %). With the amount of confidence the Rangers skaters have at the moment, challenging Gustavsson shouldn’t be an issue.

DISCIPLINE + AGGRESSIVE PLAY: The Leafs have the 27th ranked PK on the road at 77.6%. With the Rangers power play rolling of late – 5 out of 19 (26.3%) in their five-game winning streak – they must capitalize on their man advantages. On the flip side, Toronto’s power play is 2nd best in the NHL behind the Canucks at 22.4% efficiency. John-Michael Liles and Dion Phaneuf are dangerous from the points and goes without saying to stay out of the box.

RIDE WITH RICHARDS: Brad Richards is streaking, notching nine points (4 goals, 5 assists) in a five-game point streak. His linemates Ruslan Fedotenko and Ryan Callahan are scoring as well and are playing tough, grind-it-out hockey in front of the net and along the boards. As long as they keep up and build upon the solid foundation they’ve constructed as a line, it maintains the scoring balance the team has had.

COINCEDENCE OR NOT: The Rangers are 5-0 since Carl Hagelin and John Mitchell joined the Rangers lineup. On the other hand, the Rangers are 5-0 since Erik Christensen was removed from the lineup (h/t to @BlueSeatBlogs for the stats). You can’t argue the dividends paid with Mitchell and Hagelin being in the lineup. Maybe its their contagious speed and consistent effort they bring night in and night out that’s energized the Rangers; something Christensen sorely lacks.

*****

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Tags: Joffrey Lupul Jonas Gustavsson New York Rangers Phil Kessel Toronto Maple Leafs