Panarin

Rangers and Maple Leafs set for stellar festive battle

New York is set for its latest battle of the Original Six over the festive period as the Rangers host the Toronto Maple Leafs on December 28.

Both teams face an almighty scrap to force their way into the play-off picture this season and will be eager to pick-up a valuable two points in this one.

It has been a frustrating campaign for the Rangers who are bidding to end their two-year absence from the post-season line-up.

The team remains very much a work in progress, but they have shown that they can beat the best the NHL has to offer. Unfortunately, they are also capable of throwing in a stinker against lower-ranked teams.

The high-profile addition of Artemi Panarin last summer was seen in some quarters as a risky move, but it is one that is already reaping dividends.

The 28-year-old is on track for yet another prolific season points-wise, but it is his impact on other members of the roster that is perhaps most noteworthy.

His leadership and team-first ethic are helping some of the Rangers’ young prospects shine and that can only be beneficial further down the line.

Whether that will be enough to drive the Rangers into play-off contention is open for debate, but it certainly won’t be for the want of trying.

While the Rangers are going through a transitional phase, the same could also be said about the Maple Leafs.

Firing coach Mike Babcock as head coach was a risky move, but Sheldon Keefe managed to get a positive response from the players.

Star forward Auston Matthews hasn’t played to his full potential for much of the season, yet he has still managed to average around a point-per-game.

With the prospect of him stepping up the pace, the Maple Leafs could easily go on a run that takes them all the way to the play-offs.

They have lost the last two meetings with the Rangers, but won four successive matches prior to that.

Home ice advantage could just about tip the scales in the favour of the Rangers once again, although they may need overtime to get the job done.

The Rangers versus Maple Leafs game takes place on what promises to be an action-packed night in the NHL.

There are 12 other fixtures scheduled, with Carolina Hurricanes versus Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins versus Nashville Predators two of the other standout games.