The Rangers beat the Leafs in overtime Monday night! The Toronto Maple Leafs hosted the New York Rangers in what turned out to be a thriller.It was a little bit of a different look for the Maple Leafs to host the Rangers. The Leafs had not faced an American team since facing the Columbus Blue Jackets during the play-in bubble in August of 2020. Also for the Leafs, superstar center Auston Matthews made his season debut. Matthews missed the Leafs first three games while recovering from off-season wrist surgery.
The Rangers come to Toronto having lost forward Kaapo Kakko to an upper-body injury, as well as forward Ryan Strome to a Covid-related issue. After losing their first two games, the Rangers nabbed a big win Saturday night in Montreal. Sweeping their first Canadian road trip in almost two years would bring the Rangers to 2-2 record on the season.
Similarly, the Maple Leafs entered Monday night’s contest following a Saturday night win. The Leafs earned a big home win against provincial rival Ottawa on the second game of a home-and-home series. Toronto dropped the first game of the series in disappointing fashion in Ottawa Thursday.
Despite a 41-23 Toronto shot advantage, the goaltenders for both teams were the stars of the game. Toronto’s Jack Campbell and New York’s Igor Shesterkin were absolutely brilliant, making huge saves at key times. However, New York got the last laugh and earned a 2-1 overtime victory.
From puck drop, the ice was tilted in Toronto’s favor. Though Toronto appeared to control play, the Rangers were still able to get their chances. The Leafs generated their offense by sustained possession in the offensive zone, while the Rangers were a little more opportunistic. Though the Rangers seemed to have less offensive zone time, their chances were of equal or better quality when compared to the Leafs.
This opportunistic play paid dividends for the Rangers late in the first. Jack Campbell attempted to play a puck behind his net, but could not get the power on his clearing attempt he wanted. The puck ended up on the stick of New York’s Mika Zibanejad, who rifled a shot over Campbell’s catching glove. Though the puck was in and out of the net too fast for the on-ice official to see initially, the play was reviewed at the next stoppage and called a goal.
Early in the second, Toronto got the equalizer. Defenseman Morgan Rielly carried the puck through the neutral zone and put a shot on net. Michael Bunting drove the net hard and was able to redirect the shot past Shesterkin for his second goal of the season.
The score would remain tied for the remaining 38-plus minutes of regulation. New York’s Shesterkin weathered a consistent flurry of rubber throughout the game. He tracked the puck well, and limited costly rebounds. On the very few rebounds he allowed, Shesterkin recovered brilliantly to deny Toronto the go-ahead goal.
Toronto’s Campbell was stellar in his own right. Though he did not face as many shots as Shesterkin, Campbell faced some quality chances and proved equal to the task. Campbell was able to make up for some lapses in the Leafs’ defense and keep the score tied. Additionally, Campbell did well to read the play and slow the game down with a smart puck freeze when needed. With the score tied after 60 minutes, the two teams headed to overtime to decide a winner.
Though the game provided relatively little excitement, the 3-on-3 overtime was a different story. Toronto would win the faceoff and control the initial offense. The Leafs probed the Rangers defense with some nice passing plays, but it was the Rangers who got the first true scoring chance. Campbell stuffed New York defenseman Jacob Trouba on a back-door play to prolong overtime.
About two minutes later, the Leafs got a pair of scoring chances of their own. Shesterkin left his net to play a loose puck, but ended up putting it on the stick of Auston Matthews. From the blueline, Matthews one-touched the puck on net. However, Shesterkin was able to recover in time to stop the shot. William Nylander picked up the rebound and found Matthews streaking in from the blue line. Though Shesterkin was able to make that initial save, he had yet to settle back into his net. Matthews was able to deke around Shesterkin for an open net opportunity, but could not capitalize as the puck slid off his stick and into the corner.
Seconds later, New York took advantage of a Toronto line change for a 2-on-1 opportunity. Toronto’s TJ Brodie played the odd-man perfectly to force the shot, and Campbell gloved it down to end the threat.
On the ensuing face-off, Artemi Panarin would make no mistake with his opportunity. After a small scramble following the drop of the puck, Panarin would corral it and rip one. The shot would elude Campbell’s blocker and find the back of the net. With that, the Rangers would squeak out the win and leave their first Canadian road trip 2 for 2.
It’s well-known that the name of the game for the Maple Leafs is emphasis on the process. They are using the regular season as a tune-up for the playoffs, and the results don’t necessarily matter. The Leafs were by far the better team all night, but could not solve a hot Rangers goalie. Their lone tally looked a lot like a “playoff goal”, with Rielly putting a puck on net and Bunting driving hard for the goal. These are the types of goals the Leafs will need to score to have playoff success.
In my first Leafs game recap, I pointed out that the third defensive pairing of Travis Dermott and Rasmus Sandin did not look good. On this night, Dermott and Sandin both had solid games. Dermott made several strong defensive plays in his own end. Additionally, he played the role of agitator by getting into the face of several Rangers forwards. Sandin looked confident in the offensive zone. He made confident plays at the blue line, as well as joining the rush at the right times. It will be key for Sandin and Dermott to find consistency throughout the season, but Monday’s showing was encouraging.
The Leafs penalty kill continued to play aggressive, and it yielded results. Toronto made it difficult for New York to gain the offensive zone all night. If the Rangers did gain the zone, it was never cleanly, and never for long. It’s a good look, but sustaining the success may prove difficult.
Finally, William Nylander continues to look impressive on the ice. Though he didn’t get a point, he was consistently dangerous with the puck. There may not be anyone in the league that plays with as much confidence as Nylander.
New York Takeaways
New York played a fast, physical game all night. Though the shots favored the Leafs, New York’s chances just felt of a higher quality. Zibanejad and Panarin looked great with the puck. Zibanejad in particular threatened consistently, making the recent contract extension he signed seem well-earned.
As mentioned before, Shesterkin was lights-out. Without him in net, this game would have had a far different outcome. However, relying on your goaltender isn’t exactly the formula for success. The Rangers will have to find ways to suppress opposing shooters to keep their goalie from being overwhelmed.
The Rangers offense came mostly on the rush. When they gained the zone, they would get one opportunity before the puck went the other way. That is certainly not a winning recipe night in and night out. The Rangers will have to get more sustained pressure in the offensive zone.
The Rangers are going to be an interesting team to watch. They have high-end skill at the top of their line-up, and a lot of that talent is young. The same goes for their defensive corps, which boasts the reigning Norris Trophy winner in Adam Fox. The youth will continue to improve, and the Rangers will make noise down the stretch.
Toronto continues to focus less on the results and more of the process. They appear to be willing to buy into the mantra and put in the work. Though limiting mistakes will be key, having Jack Campbell playing lights-out in net gives them some security. Keeping him rested and healthy will be a necessity, because back-up Petr Mrazek is already injured, and Michael Hutchinson is not the guy you want in net when trying to win big games.