The Rangers will try to win their fifth straight Monday night against the visiting Maple Leafs, who are trying to avoid an unprecedented season-opening five-game skid.
With Sunday’s 3-0 victory over visiting Anaheim, New York improved to 4-1-0 as backup goaltender Stephen Valiquette(notes) recorded his fourth career shutout in his first start this season. Ales Kotalik(notes) broke a scoreless game in the third period with his third goal in as many games, and Sean Avery(notes) had an assist in his return from a sprained knee.
“We are happy with four wins in a row,” Valiquette said, “but we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves because we know a pat on the back is only a few feet from a kick in the butt.”
A season after scoring the second-fewest goals in the Eastern Conference, the Rangers are tied for the third-most with 17. Gaborik has a team-best four goals and seven points, and rookie defenseman Michael Del Zotto(notes) has contributed two goals and five points.
New York is also one of five NHL teams to give up two goals or fewer per game this season and is on the verge of winning five in a row for the first time since last season’s 5-0-0 start.
The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, are off to their worst start since 1990-91, when they lost four straight en route to going 0-6 with one tie. Since its founding in 1917, Toronto (0-3-1) has never lost five in a row to open a season.
A struggling defense has the Maple Leafs on the verge of that dubious mark. After giving up a league-worst 293 goals last season, they’re on a similar pace with 17 allowed in four games.
Toronto fell behind by two goals in the first 10:23 on Saturday night to visiting Pittsburgh and trailed by three after two periods in a 5-2 loss. The Maple Leafs also gave up three straight power-play scores and have allowed opponents to convert 6 of 13 chances (46.2 percent) this season.
They also trailed 2-0 after two periods against Ottawa on Tuesday night and 3-0 after the first in Washington on Oct. 3.
“There are a lot of things we have to do better,” coach Ron Wilson said. “Clearing pucks is No. 1. … I’ve never done it, but we have to somehow practice shooting the puck down the ice, because we just aren’t very good at it.”
If there’s hope for the Maple Leafs, it’s their three-game winning streak over the Rangers and a 7-2-2 record against them since Dec. 16, 2006. Toronto is also 3-0-1 at Madison Square Garden since the beginning of the 2007-08 season.
Maple Leafs beleaguered goaltender Vesa Toskala(notes) is 5-0-2 with a 1.37 goals-against average versus New York since joining the team that same season. Toskala posted a career-worst 3.26 GAA last season and has a 4.97 mark in three starts in 2009-10.