In our collective obsession with the Leafs, we may have lost sight a tad of the rest of the NHL (in our rear-view! HIGH FIVE!). We still fixate a bit on Ottawa and Montreal, and revel in their weakness, but frankly the rest of the East is nothing to overlook. Yes we beat an undermanned Pittsburgh side, which was great, but we have to face the NY Rangers 3 times this month, and the first match up is Friday night.
With that in mind, let's take a look at how the Leafs and Rangers match up, and the Rangers season so far shall we?
The Rangers have only played 2 games so far, and have posted a 1-1-0 record, currently sitting in a tie for 20th place in the NHL standings with 2 points, tied with 8 other teams. They also sit a dangerously close 4 points back of the Leafs, so this is an excellent time to start protecting that playoff position.
If you think about a 3 game series in the opening month of the season, the Leafs record against the Rangers at this stage may go a long way to helping decide playoff positions at the end of the year. 3 games is equivalent to a potential 6 point swing either way, but there are four possible outcomes in each game, which means there are 64 possible results in the three game series. 38 of those results will give the Leafs 4 or more points in the standings. With an even distribution of each opportunity against the Rangers, (win, loss, win in OT, loss in OT), the Leafs have a 59.3% chance of exiting October with at least 10 points in the standings... ignoring their games against the Islanders, Panthers, Bruins, and Flyers.
Last year the Leafs took a bit more than a month to register 10 points in the standings, so this is a wonderful thing to observe.
So how do the Rangers stack up so far? Well their PP is pretty solid at 7th in the NHL with a 28.6% success rate, scoring 2 goals in 7 opportunities. Of course the Leafs PK is sitting at a 90% kill rate, having allowed 1 goal in 10 short handed situations through 3 games. The Leafs have scored 2 PP goals in 13 opportunities, putting them at a dangerous looking 15.4%. If they can click more consistently, their PP numbers should improve. Luckily the Rangers may help on that front with their so far weak PK, which has allowed 3 goals in 10 opportunities, for a 70% success rate.
I wouldn't count on the Rangers PK being that bad for that long though, with John Tortorella behind the bench, and Lundqvist in goal - but I'll still give the advantage to the Leafs right now. That point is up for debate as it stands.
Goaltending right now would have the nod go to the Leafs, who have allowed an average of 2.00 goals against per game through 3 games. The Rangers have allowed an average of 4.50 goals against in their two games, which is the worst in the NHL. Henrik Lundqvist has looked pretty weak, giving up 8 goals on 67 shots for a .881 SV%, while Giguere has allowed 3 goals on 46 shots for a .935 SV%, and Gustavsson allowed 3 goals on 25 shots in his only appearance for a .880 SV%. Considering Giguere is likely to get the nod, then the only concern may be his 1-4 career record vs. the Rangers, and his .895 save percentage against them. Gustavsson has fared slightly better at 1-1 with a .900 SV%, but it isn't THAT much better. Hopefully the numbers can turn around a bit this year.
The boys on Broadway have compensated for their lack of defensive acumen with offense so far, leading the NHL with an average of 5.00 goals for. The Leafs are right behind, tied for 2nd in the NHL with Washington at 4.00 goals for per game. I don't think the Leafs OR the Rangers will maintain that pace though, so expect things to slack off a tad. So far New York has relied on rookie Derek Stepan and Brandon Dubinsky for a large chunk of their offense, and Gaborik and Frolov have yet to get going. Given that fact, and the issue that the Leafs are getting production from everyone, I'd expect the Leafs offense to possibly dry up faster than New York's. The advantage on this front goes to the Rangers.
Brandon Dubinsky is a career point per game player against the Leafs, with 12 in 12, so he should be of concern. The rookie Derek Stepan is off to a sizzling 3 goal start, but that likely won't last. What about the high priced goal scorers though?
Alex Frolov has 5 goals and 7 points in only 6 career games against Toronto. He has also posted 20 points in 26 games vs. Calgary, and 32 points in 46 career games against Anaheim, so the prospects of Dion Phaneuf and Francois Beauchemin shutting him down may not be that great. Marian Gaborik has 2 goals and 7 points against the Leafs in 8 games, along with 35 points in 41 games vs. Calgary, and 15 points in 23 games vs. Anaheim... so again he might be able to survive the checking of Phaneuf and Beauchemin. Historically though, both Frolov and Gaborik have had some struggles against San Jose, so Ron Wilson's coaching and defensive systems may do a solid job of bottling up the two Ranger snipers.
How might the Leafs offensive performers fare? Well about leading scorer Clarke MacArthur - it might be difficult to read, but the reality is that over his career, the three teams MacArthur has played his best against are the Leafs first three opponents this season. He has combined for 15 goals and 13 assists for 28 points in 48 games against Pittsburgh, Montreal, and Ottawa. Against the Rangers he has only posted 2 goals and 4 points to go with a -4 rating in 10 career games.
Phil Kessel only has 1 goal and 3 points to go with a -2 rating in 13 career games against the Rangers... so he might not be someone to lean on either. Nikolai Kulemin has only 1 goal and 3 points in his 7 career matchups with the Rangers. Tyler Bozak has no points against the Rangers in 2 meetings. Mikhail Grabovski has no goals and 4 assists in 9 career games against them. Kris Versteeg has no goals and 1 assist in 3 career meetings.
This all may look unfortunate from the Leafs perspective, but if they play how they have been recently there's hope their tight offensive game will continue to pay dividends. They will need to fire more than 14 shots in order to make that happen though. They'll also need better goaltending against the Rangers than Giguere and Gustavsson have exhibited in the past.
Let's see where the next few games get the Leafs, and if they can pick up a few more wins against the Rangers this month.