Rangers Back in Action Against Matthews & Leafs

The Rangers come off their All-Star break tonight to face the Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden.

The teams will meet for a final time this regular season and the young, talented Leafs have won the previous two games by the scores of 8-5 and 3-2. This will mark the 611th meeting all-time between these two original-six franchises, and kicks off a three-game stretch against very good teams. The Blueshirts will travel to Nashville and Dallas for the next two tests and will need to be at the top of their game for all three of these upcoming opponents.

[Watch Rangers-Maple Leafs on MSG & MSG GO]

Alain Vigneault speaks on how his club is doing following the NHL All-Star break and what's on their mind ahead of their matchup with Toronto Thursday.

The Rangers last start was a week ago in San Jose where they were able to stop a three-game slide with a 6-5 victory over the Sharks. Ryan McDonagh led the way with two goals, his first goals of the season. The blue line has not been overwhelming when it comes to offensive production and with Kevin Shattenkirk still out of the lineup; the Ranger captain needs to continue to be an offensive participant.

McDonagh has battled some injury issues for the better part of the season and by all accounts is now healthy. He is the absolute anchor on the back end and while there is some scuttlebutt out there with regards to trading him, I would be very careful buying into that line of thinking. While no one is irreplaceable, as this franchise is presently constructed, Ryan McDonagh is basically irreplaceable.

Kevin Hayes made his return in San Jose after missing six games due to a lower-body injury. With a goal and an assist coming as a result of his assertive play in the middle, the Rangers are a better team with the big center back in the lineup. His return seemed to spark the play of both J.T. Miller and Mats Zuccarello, two equally important guys when it comes to the success of this group. When a team is healthy, players are then usually slotted into the lineup in the correct position. With a goal and two assists, Miller sure looks to be better slotted as a winger as opposed to a center.

The Rangers will look to salvage their season series against the Maple Leafs tomorrow night at The Garden. See what the players had to say about the matchup.

Toronto comes to town with their offensive engines firing on all cylinders, having thrashed the Islanders last night, 5-0. The Leafs boast a dangerous set of forwards, led by the mercurial talents of Auston Matthews.

Matthews was Toronto’s lone representative in the All-Star Game and showed the hockey world the lighter side of a quieter personality. He plays with a presence that belies his youth, an almost ‘I’ve-been-there-done-that’ attitude. With the benefit of a solid front office and a strong head coach, in a hockey-mad environment, the 20-year-old defending Rookie of the Year is trending towards being a strong voice, both on and off the ice as the NHL moves into the future.

[Watch Rangers-Maple Leafs on MSG & MSG GO]

And to think, that this is all the product of the deserts of Arizona. Pretty amazing really.

After getting some well-needed rest after the All-Star break, the Rangers are ready to restart their push to the playoffs.

KEYS

1. Play in the Offensive Zone – Part 1

The best way to defend this group of Toronto forwards is to force them to defend. They do not need a lot of opportunities to create quality scoring chances. Keeping them 200 feet away from Henrik Lundqvist and his net will surely limit those chances.

2. Play in the Offensive Zone – Part 2

The Leafs are somewhat banged up on the blue line and will play once again without their top defenseman, Morgan Rielly. They are young and not overly physical back there and need to be exploited.

3. Head on a Swivel

Toronto’s creativity and patience with the puck will force all five defenders to pay attention to where everybody is away from the puck carrier. Getting locked in solely to the puck carrier will make for a long night.

[Watch Rangers-Maple Leafs on MSG & MSG GO]

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.