Rangers face the desperate Maple Leafs tonight, Shestyorkin starts, Strome on possible lineup changes

Tonight, the Maple Leafs visit Manhattan when they do battle with the Rangers. The game is a 7:30 PM start. It must be one of those NBCSN flex games. Plus you got the Canadian telecast. From checking the schedule, it doesn’t say anything about NBC Sports Network. Interesting.

The Leafs find themselves trailing the final wildcard by two points. The Flyers currently occupy that spot with 65 points. With their 4-3 win in overtime over the Stars yesterday, the Islanders are the first wildcard with 66. Toronto is fourth in the Atlantic Division with 63 points. They are a point behind the Panthers for third place. The Leafs have 29 games remaining. Florida has 30.

The big news is the recent injury to starting goalie Frederik Andersen. However, it’s not serious. He’s listed as day-to-day. For now, that means Michael Hutchinson will start later. Backup goalie has been a sore spot for Toronto all season. They should have interest in Rangers netminder Alex Georgiev. It will depend on what’s offered as to whether he goes or not. You know what I think about it.

Despite his success versus the Leafs, Georgiev will not start tonight. It’ll be Igor Shestyorkin. He will get his first taste of Maple Leaf hockey. Oh boy. This should be a treat. The Over/Under is at 7 total goals. Up from the usual 6.5 when the Rangers play. As much as I like what I’ve seen from Shestyorkin, you have to think there will be plenty of goals. I’m thinking at least eight. Especially the way these teams skate and play.

David Quinn has put more of an emphasis on five-on-five play following Monday’s 5-3 loss to Dallas. Over the past two games, the Blueshirts have zero even strength goals. They have scored four power play goals including Mika Zibanejad’s lone tally in the Henrik Lundqvist 1-0 shutout of lowly Detroit. The man-advantage went three-for-three against the Stars the other night.

That means they’ve gotten zilch done at five-on-five. Oh. It’s not that they played poorly at even strength. They generated enough chances and shots. However, they got no results. Credit Anton Khudobin for that. Dallas was better at taking advantage of their opportunities. They got the last three at even strength with two in the second chasing Henrik Lundqvist. Then a rebound goal on Georgiev.

With the focus on improving at five-on-five, Quinn is toying with the idea of new lines. Yep. That includes the trio of Artemi Panarin, Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast. They’ve cooled off. So, expect them to be broken up for the start of this one. When asked about it at practice yesterday, Strome understood why.

Here is a player who gets it. He knows that despite good results in a potential career year, he needs to be better. He admitted that he needs to shoot the puck more. Something that’s a common theme with this team. Pavel Buchnevich has been as evidenced by his three goals over the last four games. However, he got benched last game. What line will he play on?

I’d imagine Quinn is putting Panarin and Zibanejad back together in an attempt to match the Leafs firepower. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander have been their best players. John Tavares is under a point-per-game. He’s not been as consistent as his first year. Kasperi Kapanen is a key contributor who the Rangers might have interest in. Again, this is just spitballing.

I definitely am curious to see how they respond. This game has some juice to it given the importance for the Leafs. I’ll be there. Recap will be much later.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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