The Maple Leafs posted a 6-3 record before the official puck drop and it looked like their new defence was going to be the strength of the team, and still might be. But six games in, the D-men can’t get out of each other’s way and the Leafs can’t keep the puck out of their net.
The New York Rangers, on the other hand, went to camp with four NHL defencemen under contract and it looked as though Henrik Lundqvist would have to stand on his head nightly to prop them up. Instead, rookies Matt Gilroy and Michael Del Zotto have started the season admirably and the Rangers rank third defensively and have won six straight games.
Del Zotto, the 19-year-old former John Tavares teammate in Oshawa and London, plays with Michal Rozsival and anchors the first-unit power play as though he’s been there for years. Gilroy, who the Leafs tried to sign as a college free agent, is paired with Wade Redden and logging almost 20 minutes a game.
The Rangers have a pretty good balance going thanks to three homegrown talents who allow John Tortorella to spread his veteran players through three lines. Brandon Dubinsky is the first line centre with Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal. Ryan Callahan plays right-wing on a gritty line with Chris Drury and Chris Higgins, while rookie Artem Anisimov is the third-line centre with Sean Avery and Enver Lisin.
With nine new faces in the lineup, the Rangers have changed as much as the Leafs but have had a much better start thanks to surprising depth, timely scoring and goaltending. Nine different forwards have scored goals, Gaborik already has six and is a true game breaker, while Lundqvist is the best goalie in the Eastern Conference.
On the hot stove:
With one game in 10 days and lots of practice time, Ron Wilson had better get his message across. It’s a real indictment that the areas where the Leafs seem most deficient are those directly influenced by coaching. Their penalty killing is atrocious and they give up almost five goals a game. It’s often said you can’t teach goal scoring but you can teach better defence. Wilson better make a few pupils stay after class.
ISO camera on:
We all know Marion Gaborik has world-class skills, but part of being a great player is playing every night. Gaborik has missed 104 games over the last three seasons and the Rangers are gambling $7.5-million bucks that he can stay healthy. If he does, Gaborik is Pavel Bure. A player with the ability to bring you out of your seat and change the game in a shift.
The message from the big boss and the bench boss to Leaf players this week was relax and have fun. So they hit the reset button and had a practice that was like recess and now we’ll see if they’ve loosened up. Enjoying the game would be a lot easier if they could get a lead. Toronto has scored two first-period goals and hasn’t scored the first goal of a game yet. Fall behind at home again in front of a surly crowd and the fun metre will be back at zero in a hurry.
From the stat pack:
The record for longest losing streak at the start of a season is 11 games held by the 1943-44 New York Rangers. For you vultures, non-believers and Leaf haters, the date in question is Oct. 31.
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