After a deflating loss at home that led them into a bye week, the Toronto Maple Leafs bounced back under the Broadway lights, defeating the New York Rangers 4-2 on Friday. The victory gives Toronto at least a point in eight of their last nine games. They move to 19-13-8 on the season.
No rust to shake: Despite the five-day break (plus one practice) that preceded their game against the Rangers, the Maple Leafs didn’t take long to get going. New York was also coming off its bye week and were flummoxed by Toronto’s speed in the first period. The Maple Leafs jumped out to an early 2-0 lead and never relinquished it - in fact they added to it in the third, a rarity for Toronto this season. By keeping their foot on the gas for most of the game, with the exception of a slow start to the third frame, the Maple Leafs played close to a complete game. NHL clubs were 1-2-1 in their first game after the mandatory break heading into Friday’s game, and while both teams were equally rested, Toronto was the hungrier team from the outset.
Back on track: After a sloppy game - individually and as a team defensively - last Saturday, Frederik Andersen returned to form Friday. The waivers acquisition of Curtis McElhinney seems to indicate he will get more breaks in the second half of the season than he did in the first, and a few days off seems to do wonders for Andersen. He was impressive against the Rangers in the crease, making potential critical saves against Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello in the second and third. While Andersen can get overconfident playing the puck (and took an unnecessary holding penalty in New York), it was the bounce-back effort the Maple Leafs needed to see, and he delivered. Andersen finished with 34 saves on the night.
Follow the leader(s): No group of rookies has produced more points than Toronto’s this season - not surprising since they have had as many as eight skaters in the lineup at once. The Maple Leafs’ rookies hit 156 points on Friday, with goals coming from Connor Brown and William Nylander, and assists from Mitch Marner (2) and Auston Matthews. Nylander’s score was a rare even-strength marker (just his fourth this season), coming against Henrik Lundqvist no less. Lundqvist was teammates with Nylander’s father Michael from 2005-07, and used to play street hockey with a young William. Nylander was the Maple Leafs' top possession player on the night, too (68.43 Corsi-for). With Brown reaching the 10-goal mark, three rookies (Matthews, Marner, Brown) have now reached that benchmark for Toronto this season, a first for the club since 2008-09.
That was special: The Maple Leafs far and away won the special teams battle against the Rangers, which have lately been excellent for them. Their penalty kill was tested more than it should have been - with Toronto still prone to taking poor stick penalties - but finished 6-for-6. The Maple Leafs have the best road penalty kill in the league now (90.5 per cent), as well as the best road power play (30.3 per cent). For the fourth straight game, Toronto tallied two scores on the PP, going 2-for-4. That their recent road record sits at 7-0-1 is due in large part to the success of their special teams.
Next game: Another day, another back-to-back for the Maple Leafs. They’ll high-tail it to Ottawa for a Saturday night clash against the Senators, where McElhinney gets the start and will make his Maple Leaf debut.