For the second straight season the Rangers are opening up their home slate of the schedule with an Original Six matchup. They will tak on the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Garden on Thursday night at 7 p.m. but doors open early (5:30) for the festivities. Last season's game was an overtime loss that left me twitching mad, so let's pray that this one will be better.
Where We Are: The Rangers won three of their seven games to day, which is remarkable given their level of play. This will be the first one at the partially-renovated Garden, which is pretty much meaningless as the last two seasons the Blueshirts have been sub-.500 on home ice. Amazing how that coincides with the hiring of John Tortorella.
Where They Are: In first place of the Northeast Division. No, seriously. The Leafs are 5-2-1, but both regulation losses came on the road. They let Sideshow Bob Scott Hartnell score a pair of goals to propel the Flyers to a 4-2 victory on Monday night (that Jagr guy scored two too).
Who To Watch For: In typical fashion the Rangers opponent will bring back injured stars - dizzy Tim Connolly, Tyler Bozak and James "Optimus" Reimer. While Connolly scored the lone goal in Buffalo's 1-0 win over the Blueshirts back in March, the guy to watch for on the offensive side of the puck is Phil Kessel. Kessel has been nothing short of outstanding with nine goals and six assists in the Leafs' eight games played - and just one of the nine was on a power play. The Rangers have done well to shut him down in the past - three goals and three assists in 17 career meetings - but the guy is utterly on fire. Joffrey Lupul has ridden Kessel's coattails to the tune of four goals and five assists. Back on the Buds blueline our old friend Sloppy Seconds Dion Phaneuf is back to his pre-Elisha production while the offensively-inclined John-Michael Liles is goalless but is pacing the team in blocked pucks with 24.
What To Watch For: Torts using Girardi to shut down Kessel and whether or not the bench boss keeps McD on that top pairing or re-inserts Sauer. Del Zaster attempting his long break-out passes to try to catch the Leaf defense as Philly did twice to spring Jagr for breakaway goals. The Rangers actually going to the net - Toronto has allowed teams to walk right in on both Reimer and Gustavsson and both have absorbed big hits. If he plays, Colton Orr trying to prove something against his old team; Colt has one goal and one fight in just two games played so far this season. David Steckel's ability to win faceoffs.
What We'll (Hopefully) See: A pregame ceremony that doesn't suck. Ushers allowing real fans to watch warmups from the new yuppy seats. Ryan Callahan using his fluke of a goal against Winnipeg to kickstart his production. Brandon Dubinsky to be relevant. Brad Richards to be dominant. West Islip's Mike Komisarek doing something stupid. A Ranger faring better than Dale Weise did in his fight against Luke Schenn last year.
Also Check Out: Toronto Mike and the Bitter Leaf Fan are solid reads but the be all end all is that wacky bunch of masochists at Pension Plan Puppets.