Saturday night, the New York Rangers will have the "rare" chance to answer back after Thursday's 3-0 home loss, and they'll get to do it against the Toronto Maple Leafs (22-16-5) on the road (7 p.m. EST, MSG/NHLNET). With a 27-10-4 record and an NHL-second-best 58 points, there hasn't been too much to complain about from the Blueshirts this season. Only you wouldn't know that from listening to coach John Tortorella and his players speak as he's cultivated a bunch that is never satisfied -- and they're always seeking to improve on the little things.
New York has grown into a top-tier team because it has constantly stuck to a game plan and foremost, has been the hardest-working team on the ice. Against the Senators on Thursday, Tortorella questioned some of his players effort level and called out his top lines for producing "squat."
The test will be ratcheted up a notch against the Maple Leafs, as the Rangers have looked out of sync against them both times -- all losses -- this season. Both losses were at home and both were by the score of 4-2. In each loss, New York's bench boss has spoken of how the Rangers have struggled to contain Toronto's team speed, leaving the defensemen vulnerable in their own end zone. In order for them to finally counter that, the Blueshirts simply have to get their forechecking, down-low game -- which was missing against Ottawa -- going again. If you can wear out the Maple Leafs' forwards and defense, it will weaken their attack and transition game. New York also has to limit the space of their forwards, as they have a number of very skilled ones.
The Leafs sport two of the league's best point-getters in Phil Kessel (48) and Joffrey Lupul (47). Kessel also ranks second in scoring with 24 goals, one above Marian Gaborik.The chances of the Rangers coming out on top is exponentially better when these top guys are limited. It's also a lot better when you stay out of the penalty box, as Toronto has the second-best power-play unit. It also has the worst penalty-kill percentage, so this is an area the Rangers' 22nd-ranked man advantage could show some life.
Toronto lost Friday against Buffalo, but won four straight before that. The Rangers are still in the midst of a very strong stretch -- 10 wins in 12 games -- but they can't let the bad habits from last game show up in this one. The lines figure to be a bit scrambled in this one after being shut out -- and Brandon Dubinsky is a game-time decision. The Blueshirts need to get production from their top-six forwards or it could be another long night.