NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
Despite the distractions of Auston Matthews signing his big money deal and Mitch Marner (and his agent) doing their thing when it comes to his contract demands recently, the Toronto Maple Leafs keep chugging along and piling up the wins.
John Tavares‘ overtime winner help the Leafs to their fourth straight win and sixth straight game with at least a point (5-0-1). Tavares reached the 60-point mark and now has 33 goals on the year, putting him on pace for 50. If he can find twine a few extra times given that current pace, he might just tie or set the team’s franchise record, which stands at 54. Tavares has done well against the Rangers, a team he faced 44 times as a member of the New York Islanders, posting 14 goals and 26 assists in those games.
While Matthews’ contract fades into the annals of hockey history, it’s Marner’s that is now taking center stage. Marner made the sweet dish to Tavares on Saturday’s winner, showing once again why he’s on par in terms of importance going forward as Matthews.
Both Marner and his agent walked back on initial comments that the Leafs were low-balling the 21-year-old. who leads the lead with 66 points and 46 assists. Leafs coach Mike Babcock appears not worried about that situation seeping into the team’s fabric this season.
“What he’s done is make clear that they’re not doing anything about it until the end of the season,” Babcock said last week. “So how can that be in the way of anything? Just get in there, play and not worry about it, you’ll deal with it later. I think that they’ve done that because they don’t want it to be a distraction…Mitch is going to be a lifetime Leaf.”
The Rangers aren’t worried about big money contracts this season, nor are they worried about how it might affect their looming playoff run. The Rangers likely won’t be in the postseason.
They failed to use the inspiration of the 1994 Stanley Cup-winning team to their full advantage on Friday, dropping a 3-0 decision to the Carolina Hurricanes in a dismal effort from the Blue Shirts. Carolina was playing the second half of a back to back and New York couldn’t muster a single goal.
“I thought it was a great opportunity for our guys to be around something we’re all inspired to do, win a Cup here in New York,” Rangers coach Dave Quinn said. “It’s disappointing in a lot of ways… there was definitely a lack of urgency, which is surprising. It certainly set up to be a special night, we just didn’t capitalize on it.”
Despite being shut out on Friday, the Rangers top line of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Mats Zuccarello has been one of the hottest trios in the league. Since January 12, they have combined for 41 points (19G, 22A) in the last 11 games (Zuccarello missed one game during that span).
Zibanejad has been most impressive during the current run, scoring 10 goals in those 11 games, which is more than any other player in the NHL. His 18 points in that span are second only to Patrick Kane‘s 21.
The line might not last past the end of the month, however, as Zuccarello’s name is once again in trade speculation this season. He’s in the final year of his current contract but would be a solid depth add for any contender.
Kenny Albert (play-by-play) and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass analyst) will have the call from Madison Square Garden. Pre-game coverage starts at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Patrick Sharp and Keith Jones.