With no time to savor Sunday's 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild, the Rangers (17-18-2) look to follow that victory up with another and close out their nine-game homestand on a high note before the three-day holiday break on Monday when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs (18-16-4, 40 pts). The first meeting this season between these Original Six foes takes on an extra significance for the home team because a victory would give the Blueshirts a modest two-game winning streak and some good feelings after nearly three weeks of angst and frustration on a homestand that has seen them post only a 2-4-2 record entering play Monday.
Incredibly the Rangers have not pieced back-to-back wins together in a month, road victories in Dallas and Nashville back on November 21st and 23rd. Since then the Rangers are 5-7-2 overall, and 3-5-2 in the month of December. The Rangers have not won consecutive home games since November 6 and 10, a 5-1 win over the Penguins and a 4-3 victory over the Panthers at Madison Square Garden.
Sunday's victory was also the Blueshirts first in regulation since a 3-1 road win in Buffalo on December 5th, and first on home ice since their 5-2 thrashing of the Vancouver Canucks on November 30th. Most importantly contributions came from the entire lineup, with four different players scoring goals and nine in total recording at least one point. Head coach Alain Vigneault rolled all four lines and all three defense pairings, with all but two players logging at least 13 minutes of ice time, and no Ranger playing less than Chris Kreider's 11:22. Vigneault said after the game that the team's second period, in which they outshot Minnesota 17-5, was as good as the Rangers have played all year, with all 18 skaters contributing and feeding off one another.
Benoit Pouliot brings a four-game point-scoring streak into play Monday after scoring a power play goal against the Wild. Carl Hagelin has scored goals in three of his previous four games after his goal Sunday. Mats Zuccarello is now one point behind Brad Richards for the team lead by recording 15 points in his last 15 games. And Kreider pulled even with Richards for the team-high by scoring his ninth goal on Sunday.
Vigneault said postgame Sunday that he most defeinitely knew which goaltender was going to start Monday against the Maple Leafs, but that he would not tell reporters until he informed his goalies of his choice. Cam Talbot backstopped the win over the Wild, making 24 saves, in his first start in nearly three weeks. He was extremely sharp in the first period before the Rangers found their collective game, stopping 10 of 11 shots. Talbot is now 7-2-0 in 11 appearances and nine starts this season with a pair of shutouts and a 1.67 goals against average and .936 save percentage. No. 1 goalie Henrik Lundqvist has struggled in the month of December and has surrendered three goals or more in his last seven starts, posting a 1-4-2 record in that span.
The Maple Leafs come into play just 2-5-1 in their past eight games overall after their 5-4 shootout defeat on home ice on Saturday. Toronto's last road win came December 7th in Ottawa, and that is their lone victory on the road since October 30th. After a strong start to the season the banged-up Maple Leafs sit at 40 points, in fifth place in the competiitve Atlantic Division---three points out of fourth place---making Monday's game an important one for the visitors, too.
Toronto will be without four regulars who are injured, the most significant loss being Dave Bolland who is recuperating from ankle surgery. Bolland is joined on the Maple Leafs injured list by former Blueshirt Colton Orr, Tyler Bozak and Trevor Smith. The Rangers, of course, remain without team captain Ryan Callahan and alternate captain Marc Staal who are both injured. Staal has begun skating again in his comeback from a concussion, though he will miss his eighth straight game on Monday.
Like the Rangers, Toronto has a goalie decision to make. Jonathan Bernier (25 gp, 10-11-3, 2.49, .927) and James Reimer (18 gp, 8-5-1, 2.82, .924) have formed a very solid combo in goal for the Maple Leafs, with Bernier handling the bulk of the goalie chores earlier in the season and Reimer coming on stringly of late.