It’s a fresh week in the NHL and after an uneven start to my picks last week, a clean slate is a good thing.
Let’s dive right into tonight’s action with a Rangers vs. Maple Leafs NHL Pick from Scotiabank Arena in downtown Toronto!
Rangers vs. Maple Leafs Betting Odds
*Odds courtesy of BetOnline
|Rangers||+163||+1.5 (-150)||Over 6 (-111)|
|Maple Leafs||-181||-1.5 (+130)||Under 6 (+101)|
Offense and Defense
The Rangers haven’t exactly come out of the gate firing at the offensive end of the ice as they’ve tallied just six goals in three games and two goals or fewer in two of their three contests. The competition has been decent in the Capitals, Stars and Canadiens, but I’d venture a guess and say we should expect more from this group moving forward.
They aren’t without some early-season injury issues as both Ryan Strome and Kaapo Kakko are out of the lineup at the moment, two members of that second Rangers line that also includes Artemi Panarin. Strome and Panarin have found some chemistry on that line over the last couple of seasons, but Filip Chytil and Barclay Goodrow have earned promotions in those two absences.
It’s obviously a small sample this early in the year, but the Rangers rank 29th in terms of high-danger chances for/60 and 24th in expected goals for/60 at 5v5, according to Natural Stat Trick. They’ve also averaged just 27 shots per game so far, tied for 27th alongside the Chicago Blackhawks.
As for the back end, it should be interesting to see how this group fares this season. Of course, Adam Fox is coming off Norris Trophy honors from last season and he’s collected three points with excellent peripherals early this time around. Ryan Lindgren has proven capable of top-pairing duties with Fox and we know we we’ll get in solid two-way play from Jacob Trouba.
What we don’t know is how K’Andre Miller, Patrik Nemeth and Nils Lundkvist can do over a large sample. So far, this Rangers back end has allowed nine goals in three games, but also just four over the last two after surrendering five in Washington to open their season. They sit 17th in high-danger chances against/60 and 11th in expected goals against/60 at 5v5, so they haven’t been terrible by any means, but not exactly stout.
It’s a group that made some strides last season, but I wouldn’t go as far as suggesting it’s a reliable group on a night-to-night basis.
The Maple Leafs have scored just six goals in three games this season, but there’s some factors that have me believing there’s some serious positive regression to be had for one of the NHL’s best offenses over the last number of seasons.
The biggest headline for the club this evening is reigning Rocket Richard winner Auston Matthews making his season debut after sitting out the first three games of the season following offseason wrist surgery. Of course, getting back a guy that collected 41 goals in just 52 games last season should help. Matthews has also been incredible in season-openers.
Auston Matthews is expected to make his season debut tonight for the @MapleLeafs. The 2020-21 Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy winner needs one goal for 200 in his NHL career (199 G in 334 GP).#NHLStats: https://t.co/j3dFIJzkbz
?: TOR vs. NYR, 7 p.m. ET on TVAS, SN, MSG, NHLN pic.twitter.com/FOwPUzsZ0R
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) October 18, 2021
That said, the underlying data shows the team is creating a ton of chances but has been snake-bitten in the early going. The Maple Leafs rank first in the NHL in high-danger chances for/60 and fourth in expected goals for/60 at 5v5, but yet sit 30th with a tiny 3.70% high-danger shooting rate and 22nd in overall 5v5 shooting rate. Matthews and his career 16.2% shooting rate could help even the tide.
The back end is a little bit of a different story. The Leafs have surrendered just five goals in three games and just one in two of the three, but they have been bailed out by some quality goaltending. The club ranks 26th in both high-danger chances against/60 and expected goals against/60 on the season but have escaped damage in the process.
Justin Holl returns for his one tonight after sitting out Saturday’s contest with an illness, but he’s been a big problem on the heels of a fantastic 2020-21 season as he’s posted a brutal 38.89% Corsi For% and team-worst 39.53% expected goals% at 5v5 so far this season. Holl and Jake Muzzin formed a fine shutdown pair last season, but that has not been the case this time around.
Alexandar Georgiev had a tough night in Washington to open the season and Igor Shesterkin has posted a 1.98 GAA and .931 Sv% in two starts since, and while we don’t have a confirmed netminder for either club at this point, I would expect Shesterkin to get his third straight nod without a back-to-back scenario at play tonight, something that was the case to open their season.
I’m bullish on the young Russian netminder as Shesterkin has impressed in limited NHL duty so far. He’s played just 49 career NHL games across parts of three seasons at this point, but has turned in a 2.57 GAA and .921 Sv% in the process. According to Hockey Reference, Shesterkin posted 7.93 goals saved above average last season (GSAA), good for 11th in the NHL among netminders that appeared in more than 10 games.
Shesterkin turned aside 31 of 32 shots while earning the club’s first victory of the season Saturday in Montreal, and I’d be rather surprised if he wasn’t back between the pipes tonight.
The Leafs are dealing with some early-season adversity in goal as Petr Mrazek was unable to return for the third period Thursday in Ottawa after injuring his groin in the final seconds of the frame. He’s now out 14 days and third-stringer Michael Hutchinson has been summoned from the AHL in his stead.
I would expect Jack Campbell to make his third start of the season in this one, however, and he’s been fantastic in picking right up from where he left off last season.
Campbell dealt with injuries himself last season, but turned in a dynamite 2.15 GAA and .921 Sv% in 22 contests. Interestingly, he posted nearly the same GSAA figure as Shesterkin with a 7.90 mark in the process.
Not only was Campbell excellent last season and so far this season with a 0.86 GAA and .968 Sv% while already saving 3.65 goals above average, the best mark in the NHL season to this point, but he’s been excellent since putting on a Leafs uniform midway through the 2019-20 season.
In parts of three seasons in Toronto, Campbell has posted a .924 Sv% across 31 appearances, so he’s been much more than the team expected him following a deadline deal with the Kings a couple seasons back.
Like with any early-season results, special teams need to be taken with a grain of salt, but don’t be surprised to see this Rangers power play among the league’s best this season.
With Mika Zibanejad, Panarin, Alexis Lafreniere, Fox and Panarin on that loaded to unit, the man advantage is a major asset for this team. The Rangers are coming off a 14th-place finish with a 20.7% power play clip a season ago, but also ranked seventh with a 22.9% in Panarin’s first year in New York in the 2019-20 campaign.
So far this season, they’ve scored twice in 13 opportunities, good for a 15.4% clip. They went 1 for 4 Saturday in Montreal, but are now 1 for 8 over their last two games.
The penalty kill was terrorized in Washington last Wednesday in their season opener as the Caps tallied three man-advantage goals in six opportunities, and when we add in their game the next night against the Stars, this group went just 4 for 8 through their first two games before going 3 for 3 in Montreal on Saturday.
Add it up and that’s a subpar 63.6% success rate in the early going, and they’ll have their hands full now that Matthews is back on this Leafs man-advantage this evening.
A major storyline down the stretch last season and into the postseason for this Leafs club was a power play that went shockingly cold down the stretch. The team came out of the gate hot, but fell off a cliff on the power play down the stretch and went just 3 for 23 (13%) while blowing that 3-1 first-round lead to the rival Habs.
The power play got off to a nice start to this season, however, going 3 for 8 (37.5) through their first two games before going 0 for 3 Saturday against the visiting Senators. That’s still a 27.2% clip on the season so far without Matthews, so the early returns are encouraging after a dismal second-half a season ago.
The club’s penalty kill was perhaps their weakest area last season as they finished in a share of 23rd with a 78.5% mark, however the PK has been solid so far this season.
They’ve gone 8 for 10 for an 80% clip on the kill so far, but went just 1 for 2 on Saturday after opening the season 7 for 8. There’s new coaching on this group as well as new personnel, so it will be interesting to see how this group can rebound this season.
- Rangers are 1-5 in their last six games as a road underdog
- Rangers are 1-7 in their last eight games versus a team with a winning record
- Under is 3-1-1 in the Rangers’ last five road games
- Under is 6-2-2 in the Rangers’ last 10 games overall
- Maple Leafs are 7-3 in their last 10 home games
- Maple Leafs are 13-5 in their last 18 games following a win
- Under is 5-0 in the Maple Leafs’ last five games overall
- Under is 9-2-2 in the Maple Leafs’ last 13 games following a win
Head to Head
- Rangers are 4-1 SU and ATS in their last five games in Toronto
- Underdog is 4-1 in the last five meetings
- Road team is 9-4 in the last 13 meetings
- Over is 10-2 in the last 12 meetings in Toronto
Rangers vs. Maple Leafs NHL Pick
The Maple Leafs came out flat in their first two games of the season and despite some excellent goaltending they split those two games. They came out far better Saturday against the Senators, and another quick start tonight will be required.
The back end has been leaky for the team in the early going, but the Rangers are banged up up front and I’m not so sure this defense corps is all that solid. Shesterkin is very good, but the Maple Leafs’ offense appears ripe to break out of their early-season slump and start capitalizing on the wealth of offensive opportunities they’ve generated so far, especially with Matthews back in the fold.
While the competition hasn’t been strong in two games against a weak Senators defense and one against a banged-up Habs back end, I’m not concerned about this Rangers blueline putting the clamps on this high-octane Leafs offense.
While I’m not seeing much value on the moneyline, I’ll look at the 3-way moneyline and grab the Leafs to win this one -0.5 in regulation time.