|The Leafs have a 2-1 edge in the season series against the Rangers heading into their game in Toronto tonight. (Jack Boland/QMI Agency/Files)
TORONTO - The Maple Leafs open a four-game home stand on Saturday night hoping the momentum from a shootout victory on Friday in New Jersey will help them put to bed a rather dubious record.
The Leafs have lost a franchise record eight consecutive games at home, but ending that skid will be no easy task; they will have to get past the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers to do it.
While the Leafs have a 2-1 edge in the season series, the Rangers have had Toronto’s number at the Air Canada Centre, going 4-0-1 there in the past five games and winning three in a row by a combined score of 7-1.
Coach Randy Carlyle talked about what he thought his team needs to do get its second straight win after Nazem Kadri scored the shootout winner against the Devils on a slick deke that beat future hall of Famer Martin Brodeur on Friday night. The Leafs won the game despite being outshot 46-17. It was the fourth game in a row the Leafs had failed to crack the 20-shot barrier.
“Right now our focus has to be trying to prevent the offence of the opposition first. I think defence is going to give us a chance,” Carlyle said after the Leafs had an optional skate on Saturday morning.
“Obviously with the shot total in last night’s hockey game we’d like to create more (offence), but I think we have to do more from a cycling standpoint in the offensive zone. Parts of the second period we were able to do that last night. The first period and third period we were kind of on the receiving end. The first thing is, play that chip-and-support game and get that speed and the forecheck going and then try to create more offensive zone time.”
Carlyle said he would essentially be going with the same lineup that beat the Devils, though he hadn’t decided if he would go with seven defencemen again. If he chooses to go with six, Colby Armstrong could be back in the lineup.
Armstrong was part of a contingent of 12 players who hit the ACC ice in the morning. James Reimer, who was a huge part of the Leafs victory over New Jersey, and his counterpart Jonas Gustavsson were both out for the skate. It had appeared by the way the morning workout was going that Reimer would be getting his seventh consecutive start, but Gustavsson exited the ice first and that usually points to who will be in net come game time. Carlyle, though, likes to keep his cards close to his chest when it comes to his choice of starting goalie, so it’s unclear who will start.
Both Kadri and Ryan Hamilton who were emergency call-ups from the Marlies when Matt Frattin and Clarke MacArthur went down with injuries were on the ice in the morning, as was MacArthur and another injured forward, Mike Brown. Nikolai Kulemin, who is nursing a broken finger, made a brief appearance.
Hamilton and Kadri skated alongside centre Mikhail Grabovski on Friday night and had some success, with Kadri also picking up a regulation goal and Hamilton picking up an assist in his first career NHL game.
If the Rangers, coming off a 4-1 loss to Buffalo on Friday night, manage to extend the Leafs home-futility mark they will break the 100 mark barrier for the first time since 2005-06 when they had 100.