The Toronto Maple Leafs couldn’t have been more impressive in the way they began the 2017-18 NHL campaign while the New York Rangers left plenty to be desired in their season opener. The Maple Leafs look to ride the momentum of a seven-goal outburst into Air Canada Centre on Saturday when they play their home opener against the Original Six-rival Rangers.
Reigning Calder Trophy recipient Auston Matthews was strong out of the blocks for the second straight season, following up his four-goal performance in his NHL debut last year by collecting a goal and two assists in Wednesday’s 7-2 victory over Winnipeg. The potent combination of Matthews, fellow 20-year-old Mitch Marner and William Nylander, who is all of 21, have jelled in short order to shave considerable time off the Maple Leafs’ expected rebuild and put the residents of the hockey hotbed in the spotlight. The bright lights of New York only illuminated a less-than-stellar Rangers’ debut, with the club dropping a 4-2 decision to a Colorado club that recorded the fewest points (48) of any NHL team in the salary cap era in 2016-17. “The result was not what we were looking for, but a lot of good things to build on,” goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, NHL.TV, MSG (New York), CBC (Toronto)
ABOUT THE RANGERS (0-1-0): Mika Zibanejad scored a pair of power-play goals and recorded a career highs in shots (eight) and faceoff wins (18), with 10 coming in the offensive zone. “Our power play tonight capitalized twice and permitted us to get back in the game,” coach Alain Vigneault said after the team’s 2-for-4 performance with the man advantage. “There is no doubt that Mika’s unit was making some good plays, so that’s a real positive sign for our team here. There is no doubt that Kevin (Shattenkirk) sees the ice well and finds the open possibilities.” Shattenkirk had an assist to move within one point of 300 for his career.
ABOUT THE MAPLE LEAFS (1-0-0): Patrick Marleau was pretty blunt in his summation of his first game in a jersey other than that of the Sharks. “Pretty darn close (to perfect). That’s the way you want to see it go,” the 38-year-old Marleau said following his 66th career multi-goal performance. Coach Mike Babcock is on record as saying that Toronto’s “fountain of youth” could serve as a boost of energy and enthusiasm for Marleau when the veteran signed a three-year contract with the club in July. Marner has been seen at practice and in the locker room taking in the game’s finer points from Marleau, something the 20-year-old said he wishes to reciprocate for someone else “when I’m that age.”
1. New York owns a 6-1-0 mark in its last seven games versus the Maple Leafs and is 10-2-1 in its last 13 contests in Toronto.
2. The Maple Leafs will add Wendel Clark, Frank Mahovlich, Red Kelly and Charlie Conacher to Legends Row prior to Saturday’s game.
3. Rangers RW Mats Zuccarello set up a goal to pick up where he left off last season when he established a career high with 44 assists.
PREDICTION: Maple Leafs 5, Rangers 2