Toronto Maple Leafs at New York Rangers:
Time: 7:00 EST
Location: Madison Square Garden
Opponent SBNation Site: Blueshirt Banter
In honour of a team of aging New York stars who can still nonetheless sometimes bring it, here are some aging New York stars bringing it.
The Rangers are currently fourth in the Metro murder pit, good for the first Wild Card spot in the East. Their CF% numbers are terrible—currently 30th in the league adjusted at 5v5, says Natural Stat Trick—but they’re surviving with a sterling PDO, some of which they do deserve. Still, they’re a cool 21st in xGF%. These guys are beatable.
But let’s start with the Leafier news: Matthews is back.
Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - William Nylander
Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri - Leo Komarov
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Mitch Marner
Matt Martin - Dominic Moore - Connor Brown
Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey
Jake Gardiner - Connor Carrick
Andreas Borgman - Roman Polak
Matthews skating between Nylander and Hyman, looks like he’s back. #tmltalk— Paul Hendrick (@HennyTweets) December 23, 2017
How we’ve missed you, Auston. Needless to say, the Leafs’ lineup gets significantly better, really quick, if we have our franchise player. Hopefully 34 is ready to lead us out of our recent doldrums—although the team played well the last couple of games.
Patrick Marleau and Ron Hainsey were absent from practice, but are expected to play.
Matthews indeed returning tonight. Patrick Marleau and Ron Hainsey both will play after sitting out the morning skate.— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) December 23, 2017
New York Rangers
Chris Kreider - Mika Zibanejad - Pavel Buchnevich
Rick Nash - David Desharnais - Mats Zuccarello
Michael Grabner - Kevin Hayes - Jimmy Vesey
Paul Carey - J.T. Miller - Boo Nieves
Ryan McDonagh - Nick Holden
Brady Skjei - Kevin Shattenkirk
Marc Staal - Brendan Smith
This team seems like it ought to be better than it is, except for that relatively soft centre lineup after Zibanejad (Zibanejad is dope.) Having said that, while David Desharnais looked dead and buried last season, he’s producing at a 46-point pace, which is nothing terrible...but his CF% is the worst on a bad team. Rick Nash is not what he was, but he can still flash some of the old magic, and Mats Zuccarello is still one of the most purely skilled playmaking wingers in the NHL. Plus, they have Boo Nieves, who I assume brings wisdom from his time as a character in To Kill A Mockingbird.
Nick Holden seems a little odd on the top pairing, but Skjei-Shattenkirk is a nice second duo and while I like to make fun of Marc Staal, third pairing is about his level. Seriously, this team seems like it would be something if they were deeper at centre...which makes the fact that they traded their best one, Derek Stepan, over the summer for futures all the more perplexing.
But of course, there’s one real superstar on the Rangers, and it’s the same handsome man it’s been for years. Henrik Lundqvist, in defiance of Father Time, continues to perform at a high level. It’s hard to see how he gets a Cup at this point, because the Rangers look to be fading away from one and his contract is a tough trade, but Lundqvist is unquestionably one of the most consistently great goalies this century.
Still, I want the Leafs to ruin his night and go into Christmas on a win. Go Leafs Go!